Saudi Women Seek Lasting Marriages With Foreigners

Saudi women visiting Bahrain

A group of Saudi Arabian women visiting Bahrain.

By Laura Bashraheeel
Saudi Gazette | Jeddah
1 December 2012

A growing number of young Saudi women are marrying foreigners while slowly breaking down cultural and social taboos.

Saudi society may still be struggling to accept the idea of citizens marrying foreigners but that hasn’t stopped Saudi women from choosing who they want to marry.

According to statistics published last year, the Ministry of Interior approved 6,123 marriage requests of Saudi men wanting to marry non-Saudi women and vice versa. The percentage of Saudi marriages to non-Saudis was only 10 percent of this number or 612 marriages.

A proposed law governing the marriage of Saudi nationals to foreigners was recently transferred by the Shoura Council to a special committee for further study.

Shoura Council member Sadaqa Fadel told Saudi Gazette recently that the council needs to restudy the issue in order to be able to make a decision.

“It is a complicated issue that will affect a large number of people,” Fadel said.

In the past, the majority of foreign men Saudi women married were from Arab countries. However, in recent years marriages to European and US nationals have become increasingly common despite the vast cultural and language gaps.

Three Saudi women

Hasna’a M, a 35-year-old research and media manager, is married to a Canadian-Egyptian and both live in Jeddah. Previously, Hasna’a had been married to a Saudi man and engaged to another. She believes that the majority of Saudi men, or at least the ones she dealt with, do not know how to treat women.

“Most of them are brought up to believe that they’re God’s gifts to Saudi women. Some Saudi men expect to get married to women who play a motherly role. They think they can get away with murder and they are walking contradictions,” she said.

Hasna’a said one such contradiction is the lip service some men pay to women’s right at work but at home those rights are never granted to women.

“I have been married for nearly five years and I feel like I can be myself with my non-Saudi husband. He respects me, appreciates my aspirations and ambitions and he supports me in everything I do. Our marriage is like any other marriage with its good and bad days. The only difference is that he has a better understanding of me as a woman and he respects me as a human being,” she explained.

“I never planned to get married to a non-Saudi man, but I’m glad fate brought him my way,” she said while adding that Saudi society as a whole is becoming more understanding and gradually accepting mixed marriages.

“My father was a bit worried because he didn’t know much about his background or family. They’re best friends now. This is not the case with everyone; there’s still a large percentage of people who think it’s a taboo or against customs.”

For a Saudi woman to marry a non-Saudi, a permit must be obtained for the marriage to be legal and certified.

In order to get a permit, there are a number of conditions one has to fulfill, the first being reaching the age of 25 years. The entire process can take months and in some cases years.

“There are no clear instructions on the procedure or how long it will take to process. It’s a matter of luck and who you know or how much you pay in order to get your paperwork done. It took us a year to get the approval,” Hasna’a said.

Heba, a 29-year-old senior physiotherapist, is married to a Greek national and they live together in the UK where they met. Heba said the bad experiences of women she knew and the country’s high divorce rate played a role in her decision to marry a foreigner.

“We fell in love that’s why we got married. However, possibly I was looking for someone who lives outside Saudi Arabia and is open-minded,” she said while adding that a lot of people in the Kingdom seem to get married for the wrong reasons, including not being mature enough to sustain a healthy relationship.

Heba said she encountered some initial resistance from her family but now that she has a child, they have come to accept everything. “Speaking from experience, society still does not accept such unions, which I feel may be because of racist notions.”

Like Hasna’a, Heba had to obtain a permit to get married. She said although the authorities were discouraging and unsupportive, she didn’t face any major difficulties.

“It took me six months to obtain the permit and that was mainly because whenever the application was forwarded to a new department, it would remain there until I submitted additional documents. We had to keep track constantly and call different departments to check up on the progress,” she added.

Lama, 29, is preparing to marry a Turkish man. She said she has no specific reason for marrying a non-Saudi and cares more about her fiancé’s personality and how he treats her than what his nationality is.

“Successful or failed marriages are based on individual personal experiences,” Lama said.

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