Abu Ibrahim’s Statistical Data And Perceptions On Marriage Between Saudis And Non-Saudis

Since his days as a student in Lebanon and the United States, Abu Ibrahim has maintained an interest in the subject of marriages between Saudis and Non-Saudis. He compiled a list of 35 respondents, all of them confidential, which consisted of Saudis and Expats who were either engaged, married or divorced. He is permitting me to share the results of this list and his perceptions on marriages between Saudis and Non-Saudis. I’d like to express my appreciation of his confidence in me to convey his work and thoughts to the readers of this blog.


The specifics of the 35 samples are as follows:

(2) SAUDI FEMALES ENGAGED TO EXPATS both living outside Saudi
(13) SAUDI FEMALES MARRIED TO EXPATS of whom 11 are living outside Saudi
(9) EXPAT FEMALES MARRIED TO SAUDIS of whom 8 are living in Saudi
(7) EXPAT FEMALES DIVORCED FROM SAUDIS all living outside Saudi
(3) EXPAT FEMALES WIDOWED TO SAUDIS all living outside Saudi

He then provides a commentary on these specifics based upon his recollections of a course in social research methodology:

(a) the largest incidence out of 35 are 13 Saudi females married to Expat males (37%), of whom 11 are living outside Saudi Arabia (85% of 13); we can say married Saudi females either prefer to live outside Saudi, or are forced to live outside by legal and social circumstances.

(b) 9 Saudi males are married to Expat females (26%), of whom 8 are living in Saudi (88% of 9); we can say Saudi males either prefer or find it easier to live in Saudi with their Expat wife.

(c) 8 out of 35 are divorced, or 23%. Of these, 7 are Expat females living out of Saudi (88% of 8); we can say that a significant number of Expat females are under stress to divorce and leave Saudi for any number of reasons.

(d) There are 4 widows out of 35 (11%), but 3 out of 4 prefer to live outside Saudi; we can say that Expat female widows find it more convenient or desirable to live outside Saudi Arabia.

(e) the 2 engaged are both living outside Saudi. We can say that both find it is more convenient to live outside Saudi.

In any research, designing the data gathering methodology and sampling of a study are important to achieve two objectives: (a) consistency and (b) reliability. That means: are we measuring the same things every time, and are we confident that our measurements are true. It is more difficult to identify certain phenomena. For example:

– Some persons will keep their “engagement” confidential because society or family do not approve;
– Some married persons will keep their marriages confidential, whether it is the first or second spouse, for more reasons of disapproval;
– Most divorced or separated persons wish to forget or ignore those unfortunate personal experiences.

These concerns may be even more pronounced in our closed societies, where familial relations are taboo subjects for open discussion.

Now he gets more personal…

What advice can you give to prospective brides and grooms who come from different countries or societies or ethnic groups, different religions, different language/cultural backgrounds, different races?

What happens when a marriage leads to leaving one’s job, one’s home, one’s hometown, one’s country? What happens when you have to pledge allegiance to a different flag, declare belief in a different religion, accept a break with one’s family background and traditions, bring up your children in a different belief, given them names and education from a different culture, and so on?

I have witnessed the suffering through such an experience in the 1960s, and I find it hard to discuss this matter. Fortunately, there were no children born from those years, which would have led to great difficulties for any children and their mother. I have several personal inclinations that lead me to study these matters: The subject is not well studied or publicized, our world today is globally inter-mixed, but our borders and barriers have grown stronger and more difficult.

Allow me to commend you for pursuing your interest in a study here in Saudi Arabia, which is an exceptionally difficult society and country to deal with.

Abu Ibrahim proceeds to tell me about King Fahd’s opinion of marriages between Saudis and Non-Saudis. King Fahd was Minister of Interior from 1962-1975 and had to address the issues that accompanied the regulations on these marriages.

Let me try to recollect the facts. I will work backwards in time!

Sometimes in the mid-1980s, King Fahed gave a few public speeches both at his palace majlises and in universities. I heard 3 or 4 of these speeches, and attended the one given at the King Fahed University of Petroleum & Minerals (KFUPM). This speech was televised, although one joke was censored out later. A student asked the King why couldn’t marriage from Expatriate Muslim women be eased. King Fahed said:

“In the past, our men used to go to get married from abroad because they said they wanted educated wives. So we opened schools for our girls, and today we have very beautiful educated women from whom you can get married here. But we must also be alert to the problems we cause when you get married to a woman from abroad. When she gets pregnant, she will miss her family, and ask to go deliver her baby at her mother or sister’s home. You, as the husband, won’t like that, and will want her to deliver here at your mother’s home. Later, she will ask to visit her family abroad to show off her baby, and you will not be happy to travel abroad so much. Disagreements soon follow, and we in the government receive all these complaints and conflicts. The wives feel they are being cruelly denied the love of their families, and the husbands are afraid to lose the wife and children. So, I tell you, it is best that you marry locally and avoid the problems of marrying from outside.”

This is a true story, televised and broadcast in Arabic on Saudi TV. I was there and witnessed these wise words, which carried much compassion to the Expat wife and the desire to protect her from the hardships of expatriation in Saudi Arabia.

I agree with King Fahed’s generous views — the men should not submit expatriate women to the difficulties of expatriation and the cruelties of marriage in Saudi Arabia! I recall he spoke after the ban was placed on marriage from outside Saudi Arabia, which I think goes back to the 1970s or earlier.

Today, the Saudi Government has the most stringent controls on engagement, marriage, living, children, education, work, residency, property, travel, human rights, divorce and death between a Saudi and a non-Saudi. I am speaking both historically (comparing rules today to those of the past), and comparatively (our rules vs. those of other societies). In truth, there are shocking stories from many societies, and our planet is becoming increasingly inhospitable to diversity.

I am not an expert on all the particular controls, but what I hear shocks me. The rules are being constantly made more restrictive and cruel. The double standard applied against women becomes worse each year. It is too difficult and aggravating to try to address all the issues. But as I see our young people — both young women and men — sentimentally and lovingly pursue engagements and marriages across so many borders, I am saddened. It is difficult to have rationality and realism confront sentimentality and dreams.

Anyway, to go back to history. There were periods when Saudis traveled in their thousands and got married abroad, driven by the different oil and political eras of the 20th Century. At present (2005-2009) we have over 20,000 Saudis, mostly young men, studying in the USA, of whom many will marry American young ladies. We may have another 15,000 studying in other countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Canada and Australia. This happened also in 1974-1981 when we peaked with about 12,000 Saudi students in the USA, and we had hundreds who went to the USA in the 1960s. Meanwhile, we had other Saudis who went to Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere where they studied, and some got married to non-Saudi young ladies.

Like most Arab and Islamic countries, we tend to send our young men abroad to study, and keep our young women to study at home. Marriage from abroad in the 1960s and 1970s was not frowned upon as much as in the 1980s and later. We encouraged such marriages because it helped increase our population, although marriage from non-Arabs and non-Muslims was under pressure. However, marriages from Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in the 1950s came under political stress from conflicts with Nasserite Egypt and the Baath in the 1950s-1960s.

Marriage from different countries came under different pressure for different reasons. It came in the form of refusal to issue visas or grant residencies. For example, there were always bans on marriages from Shia in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India. There were bans on marrying from Oman as they belong to an Islamic tradition called “Ibadi.” This has been dropped under the GCC since 1981. Marriages from Yemen or some other countries carried political obstacles going back to the 1930s.

Before the oil era economic take-off in the 1950s, in the first half of the 20th Century and earlier, many Saudis (Najdis, Hijazis and Hasawis) emigrated to Egypt, Syria and Iraq, where they married local girls and settled in those countries. In the era of King Abdul Aziz and his sons, many started to migrate back, including their progeny and grandchildren. Under the Saudi Nationality Law, perhaps promulgated in the 1950s and available along with many other Saudi laws on the SAGIA website, there are three ways to obtain nationality. Marriage is not one of them.

Saudi nationality is certified by being listed in a Tabi’yah — an imported legal concept from France via Napoleonic Egypt in the late 1700s. Tabi’yahs were issued based on one’s parents being born and raised in Saudi Arabia. They could also be issued on orders of the King and on going through the process of citizenship as established by the Ministry of Interior at different times in history.

The Napoleonic concept is that you are a citizen if the State recognizes you as such through the issuance of a certificate or ID, in this case a Tabi’yah, which literally means “to whom you belong or follow”. The Anglo-Saxon concept is the reverse: if you are born in a place, then you are entitled to those privileges of a local citizen. The State derives its legitimacy from all the locals granting it their recognition and allegiance.

This is perhaps the source of our problem. Our State does not wish to recognize certain categories of people. Over the past three decades, the introduction of computerized plastic ID cards in lieu of Tabi’yah paper booklets has further complicated the system, as human corrective or judgmental interventions have been replaced by computerized machines. Mis-spellings, errors in dates, and procedural rigidities have become the law, and treatment of people as humans has become secondary to meeting bureaucratic objectives.


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Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

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