Three Saudi Women And A Shoura
22 November 2003
This is a tale of three women. Three women who, unrelated or unknown to each other, are linked by a common dilemma.
It is a story of three Saudi women who have chosen a foreign husband. And while their names have been altered, their stories are very true.
Sara is a college professor who three years ago married a man from Turkey. While her marital relationship is fine, it is the uncertainty about her two-year-old child’s fate that keeps unsettling her.
Noha is a doctor, happily married for seventeen years to a gentleman from Egypt. Her husband, while not a doctor, is employed by a private hospital here.
And the third lady, Lena is also married to a foreigner. Her husband is an American convert to Islam, and they have a pair of five-year-old twins. Although she remains content in the role of a housewife, unease at what may happen to her husband or children often overwhelms her.
The source of all this unease is the foreign status of all these children. None of the offspring of these women is considered a Saudi, or granted legal status as such. Instead, they have all adopted the nationalities of their fathers, and are subject to all the bureaucratic aggravation that accompanies the status of foreigners here. They are residents on Iqamas, just like their fathers, and subject to the laws of their respective countries.
When they come of age, some of them will be expected to do their military service in these countries.
To earn a living, the husbands of these women are sponsored for employment by one company or another. And while these men have expressed no desire to return permanently to their countries, that decision is not in their hands.
Instead, our nationality and residency laws govern it. They may offer residency to a foreign husband under his wife’s sponsorship but deny him the right to earn a living if she is his sponsor. They do not grant automatic citizenship to the children of Saudi women but choose to retain them under sponsorship.
The laws do not recognize that cases such as these are on the rise, and yet could unravel a family on the cessation of employment and termination of sponsorship of the husband.
Some time back, each of these women and their families were filled with hope. A hope for some permanence. The Shoura Council was tasked with reviewing existing citizenship laws and revising them to current expectations. Sadly, the issue bounced about in the council for a couple of weeks, before being sent back to the Ministry with no results.
And while the Shoura Council is not in session, the uncertainty that overwhelms these families rises and retires with them unceasingly, each passing day.
The Other Side Of Saudi
Tarik Al Maeena (Arab News Columnist)
29 November 2003
My column last week on the uncertain state of three Saudi women married to foreigners and the undecided status of our citizenship laws elicited two angry and rather forceful responses from readers, both Saudi men.
The first chastised me for being too soft on the Shoura Council. He went on to write that he was “rather disappointed” that I did not address the problems created by delays of issues pending before the council, and neither did I mention how many such issues remain pending while the council was out of session for the holidays.
The public needs more insight into the workings of this council, he added, to allow them to gauge how effective this group is and whether it is indeed responding to the needs of the people.
I had to explain to him that column space limitations often did not provide me the luxury on delving into each point mentioned in the column in detail. Then again, perhaps he did not read my “Unfit for Public Consumption” column of a couple of weeks earlier.
In the second outburst, a Saudi married to a German lady had this to say: “I have been married for 19 years. All my official documents state that I am ‘single’. Yes, single. Although I have a marriage certificate from the High Court in Jeddah, my official status on my ID card, my passport, or my family card continues to remain single.
“My twin boys are of age and have their own ID card. They were then taken off mine. My younger son will be of age this summer and will be processed for his own ID card, and will be thus also be taken off mine. Therefore I shall be left with a family card showing that I have no family at all.
“Do you know how embarrassing it is when you travel with your wife, and yet your passport indicates you are single? Or checking into a hotel and being questioned time and again by inquisitive receptionists about my wife’s status and relationship to me. Or the annoying discrepancy that while my documents clearly state that I am single, her Iqama asserts that she is married.
“With such a dubious status, I worry for her rights as my wife, because I have nothing beyond the marriage certificate legitimizing our union. In the event of something happening to me, just how well protected would she be? Why for heaven’s sakes are we continually subjected to such dense laws?”
I wrote back telling him that once the Eid holidays were over, I hoped the Shoura Council would once again address the issue of citizenship to qualify the expatriates, and marriage of Saudis to foreigners, and revise the laws to address these inconsistencies.Silently, I hold my breath.