Saudi Gazette: Studies Underway On Saudis Marrying Abroad
By Muhammad Odhaib
08 January 2009
DAMMAM – The Society for Caring for Saudis Abroad (Awassir) is in the process of completing three studies on Saudis marrying abroad. The studies will be submitted to the Ministry of Interior upon completion.
Abdullah Al-Hamoud, the society’s chairman, said the studies focus on problems emanating from marrying foreign women abroad, curtailing the phenomenon of such marriages and handling the difficulties Saudi families face in adapting themselves to the new environment on their return to the Kingdom.
Al-Hamoud said an earlier study conducted by the society showed that there were 200 girls of marriageable age belonging to Saudi families abroad and suggested that those wanting to marry foreign women take them as their wives instead.
He said studies revealed that 40 percent of applications for marrying foreign women were submitted by elderly Saudi men looking for foreign wives below the age of 20.
Al-Hamoud explained that the problem of readapting stems from the long years Saudi families stay abroad pointing out that “some families invariably face a problem readapting upon their return to the Kingdom. This necessitates the intervention of some parties involved in social work.”
Meanwhile, the society will start distributing electronic cards worth SR500 to needy Saudi families abroad to enable them to met their monthly expenses. The cards will be recharged monthly so as to enable the families to use them without interruption.
Al-Hamoud said the society has adopted a plan for touring 11 countries where needy Saudi families are residing with the objective of determining their condition and facilitating their return to the country.
Al-Hamoud said the society has urged the social committee in the Shoura Council to come up with a new regulation governing the marriage of elderly Saudi citizens to foreign women. He indicated that the society had earlier submitted statistics to the Shoura Council on the number of boys and girls of Saudi origin living abroad.
To me, the issue seem overly complicated by two factors: 1) Saudi government/society seem determined to decide who will marry whom, and 2) Saudi society is unique (all societies are), but in a way that makes it almost incomprehensible to non-Saudis.
I do believe that governments have a legitimate, though extremely limited, role to play in the issue of marriage. Setting standards on minimum ages seems appropriate. I might even go along with counseling about the dangers of consanguineous marriages, perhaps even forbidding them in some cases. But saying that one cannot marry a foreigner, or effectively forbidding it by throwing up complications and paperwork barriers does not strike me as the proper role of government.
Government decree does not directly effect social reactions, of course, and there is strong animus toward foreign-born wives (and husbands) in Saudi society. Nothing but time and experience will resolve that problem, I fear.
Due to its centuries of being largely closed off to the outside world has led Saudi society toward close-mindedness, prejudice, and an overdose of xenophobia. There’s more than a little racism involved, too. This is a social problem that can be exacerbated or fixed through government action; right now, government regulation increases the problems.
With its strict interpretation of Islam, Saudi society does not welcome anything very different. As most of the world is very different, there are inevitable clashes between foreigners and Saudis when it comes to living daily life within a family. At present, the ’solution’ seems to be that the foreigner adopts the Saudi way of doing things (not completely unreasonable, as the saying ‘When in Rome…’ would suggest). But the Saudi way is sometimes contrary to near-universal understandings of basic human rights. How does that get sorted out? I don’t think government regulation has any useful answer here.