Foreign-Born Women Married To Saudis Concerned Over New Citizenship Rule

Sarah Abdullah
Arab News, JEDDAH
18 June 2007

Recent changes implemented to Saudi-naturalization rules have foreign women married to Saudi men wondering if their marriage ends up in divorce whether they’ll be left without a country to call their own.

Among the new rules implemented earlier this year is a change to Article 16 that states the Saudi citizenship of foreign-born women can be revoked if they divorce their Saudi husbands. Since the Saudi rules also require these women to give up citizenship to their native homeland in order to become naturalized Saudis, these women feel like they could end up in a real quandary should their marriages end in divorce.

“The Kingdom in the past few years has established human rights organizations in the hopes of banishing the stereotype of women’s oppression in Saudi Arabia — and I applaud the Kingdom for doing so — but I think the Ministry of Interior should take another look at the consequences the new law can have on innocent mothers and children newly Saudi or made to revert to being foreign,” said Mary, an American-born woman married to a Saudi man who has been living in Riyadh for the past 18 years. “The fact of the matter is, kids know no system of nationality … just ‘mommy’,” she added.

Debbie, an American woman who married a Saudi at 18 and has lived in Jeddah for the past 26 years, agrees. She’s just now working through the Saudi naturalization process and calls the new rule bizarre.

“It really doesn’t seem right because, for example, I have been living in Saudi Arabia longer than I lived in my own country,” she said. “Once I receive the citizenship just because of divorce I could lose it. That seems really bizarre.”

Arab News tried several times to contact the Ministry of Interior’s Civil Affairs Office to verify the new regulation change for foreign wives of Saudi nationals but our calls and visits to the office went unanswered.

“Where does that leave us in terms of our children?” asked Mary. “Shouldn’t we as mothers of Saudi children be allowed to retain the Saudi nationality if for nothing else but to raise our kids and be part of their adult lives?”

Mary added that the divorced foreign wife basically has no recourse since she has likely already given up her original citizenship. In addition to the Saudi law that can revoke citizenship of these women, many countries have laws against dual citizenship. Some people, including many Saudis, hide their second nationality from the involved governments.

While some countries allow dual citizenship, such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia does not allow dual citizenship and retains the right to revoke Saudi citizenship from those who hide their other nationality.

Other rules implemented earlier this year include revocation of citizenship to those naturalized Saudis who commit crimes or any other reason determined by authorities to make the naturalized citizen unfit to be Saudi. Furthermore, anyone knowingly providing false information in order to get citizenship face a fine of SR30,000.

On the other hand, professional expats are lauding Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for maintaining Saudi Arabia’s standing offer the opportunity for Saudi citizenship based on educational accomplishments.

Dr. Sobhia Mahmoud, an Egyptian-born pediatrician who has been employed at the New Jeddah Clinic for the past seven years, told Arab News, “I think it is a good step for both the Kingdom, in offering such a chance, and for the expats, who have been loyally working in Saudi Arabia to have an opportunity for a good life that they might not be able to have in their home countries.”



Children Seek Citizenship After Dad’s Death

Arab News, MADINAH
1 August 2007

Yahya, Ida and Mariam are children of a Saudi married to a non-Saudi woman. Their father recently died of a heart attack leaving them with no citizenship, according to a report in yesterday’s Al-Madinah newspaper, which didn’t mention the nationality of the mother, the family name or the names of the parents.

While children of Saudi men married to foreign women are more easily made citizens than children of Saudi women married to non-Saudi men, the process still requires a lengthy bureaucratic procedure that involves fees.

Yahya, 18, speculated that his late father’s SR2,000-a-month salary was insufficient to allow him to afford the cost of ensuring citizenship to his three children.

“I don’t know why he didn’t get us our official documents, maybe because of his bad financial status,” said Yahya.

Because Yahya and his siblings are not Saudi citizens they cannot enroll in government schools and they cannot afford the huge fees at private institutions.

A friend of the family was quoted anonymously by Al-Madinah newspaper as saying that the father’s family has ostracized the kids and the mother fearing they will seek their help. The mother and kids now live with the woman’s cousins.

The mother said her husband traveled a lot, which she says is why he never bothered to go through the official procedures of attaining citizenship for his children.

“He died last year leaving us in a miserable condition,” she said, adding that without proof of citizenship they cannot access the father’s 112 months worth of insurance benefits.

“My children can’t go to school and charity organizations have refused to help us,” she said. “No one empathizes with us. I am asking authorities to look into our case. I fear that my children, especially Yahya, might develop psychological problems.”

The National Society for Human Rights office in Madinah showed concern regarding the issue. Muhammad Al-Aufi, a member of the group, told the newspaper that his organization does indeed help out people with different situations and that it is willing to help this family.

Al-Aufi didn’t elaborate except to mention a different case of a family in a similar situation that the NSHR recently helped out.

The case involved seven children whose father didn’t get government permission to marry their foreign mother who was eventually deported. Al-Aufi didn’t say what exactly the NSHR did to help this family.

Intermarriages between Saudis and non-Saudis often occur without consideration of the legal and cultural complexities that sometimes end up revoking such marriages.

According to Abdullah Al-Hamoud, chairman of Awasser, a Saudi charity that looks after the welfare of Saudi families abroad, the Kingdom protects the rights of children from marriages between Saudi men and non-Saudi women.

Recently the Shoura Council approved legislation granting citizenship to foreign-born women married to Saudi men, as well as widows of deceased Saudis.


Saudi Children Of Foreign Mothers Denied School Enrollment

Sarah Abdullah
Arab News | Jeddah
14 September 2007

For the past three weeks it has been the same routine for Saleema, mother of three girls ages six, eight and 11. Each morning she gets up, prays Fajr, and then wakes, bathes, dresses and feeds her children and gets them ready for the day. But she hasn’t been sending her children to meet the school bus or to be dropped off by their father or a fancy chauffeur-driven car. Instead, she endures the agonizing task of trying to get her children enrolled in a Saudi public school.

Why has Saleema spent so much time and effort getting her children enrolled after the majority of the Kingdom’s children have already started the school year? Her short answer: discrimination against foreigners on the part of Saudi state schools. “I know it is all happening because of my accent when I try to speak Arabic to the school staff,” said Saleema, who was born in the UK but has been married to a Saudi man for the past 14 years. “I have been told by a number of government schools that they have no seats available and to wait and call after a week. Then I was told that the school was only enrolling children of government teachers at the specific school. Then I spent another week visiting other schools that the initial school administration sent me to saying that these schools would take my children because they had seats. When I went they too said they had no seats available. I finally asked my sister-in-law, a Saudi, to call and request information for me and she was told that the children can be enrolled for a nominal fee, if they are of Saudi nationality.”

Saleema’s situation is common. A number of foreign mothers of Saudi children believe that their children should have the same rights to education as other children whose mothers are Saudi.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” said Huda, a foreign-born mother of two Saudi children. “Why should we have to spend extra money enrolling our kids in private schools when our children are Saudi and should be able to attend the public schools for free?”

Huda, who is an Indonesian married to a Saudi, said that she’s even been judged by school officials based on her nationality, who have presumed that because she is Indonesian she’s a housemaid who has come to enroll a Saudi woman’s children. (Many housemaids in Saudi Arabia are Indonesian.) Huda says officials have told her that the children’s mother should be enrolling the kids, not the maid.

Some suspect that there might be a general sense of objection to the idea of a Saudi man marrying a foreign woman.

“Even when we go out to the shopping mall or elsewhere and speak Malay, many Saudi women make sarcastic remarks. They ask each other if there’s such a shortage of Saudi women in society that Saudi men have to marry foreigners,” said Khalil, a Saudi who has been married to his Malaysian wife for the past 30 years.

As for filing discrimination complaints with the Ministry of Education, Saleema says she thinks it would be useless. “What would we do when we go to the ministry? The ministry may or may not confront the administration. And because the foul treatment is totally verbal, the school’s administration will deny it and pretend nothing happened,” she said. “Even my husband has tried to enroll our girls asking the guard outside the school for the phone number and the name of the headmistress in order to call and get things straightened out, but the guard refused to give out any information to the extent of speaking harshly to my husband.”

Numerous calls and visits by Arab News to speak with the Student Affairs Department of the Ministry of Education went unanswered. It looks as if the only thing left for these foreign-born moms to do is to face the fact that prejudice is everywhere even in the one place children should feel the safest: at school and at the hands of the very people parents trust to teach their children.


Married With No Legal Rights

Arjuwan Lakkdawala
Arab News | Jeddah

When a Saudi wants to marry a non-Saudi, he or she must first obtain a marriage permit from the Ministry of Interior. This can take months, even years. Regrettably, some immoral Saudi men are using this as an excuse to marry expatriate women without officially registering their marriages.

In such a scenario, the man tells the family that he has applied for a permit and that it will take some time for it to be issued. He then convinces the family that the marriage should take place at the earliest opportunity rather than waiting for the permit. Having gained the family’s full trust, the man gets married. No sheikh who is registered with the Saudi authorities will agree to the marriage of a Saudi to a non-Saudi without a legal permit. There are, however, some unregistered expatriate sheikhs who will. Such marriages are legal according to Islamic law, but not under Saudi law. Women who marry in this way usually lose their legal rights as wives under Saudi law. After a few months of marriage, many husbands abandon their wives or divorce them without being obligated by law to pay them compensation or alimony. And since the wife is not legally registered, there is little a woman can do to claim her rights.

“My husband bef-riended my father and brothers for months before asking for my hand in marriage,” said R.I. “We never thought for a second that he could be lying when he said he had applied for a permit. We trusted him. He was very eager to marry. He seemed like the best son-in-law any family could have.”

R.I. added that not long after the marriage, her husband’s behavior changed. He soon admitted he had not applied at all and had no intention of legalizing the marriage. “He dropped me off at my family’s home and then divorced me over the phone.”

According to legal consultant Mohammed Saeed Tayib, illegal marriages are on the rise. “There are just too many,” he said. “The problem here is because there are no legal documents to prove the marriage it cannot be proven in a court of law,” he added. Tayib said that if the marriage occurred abroad, then there are legal channels through which the marriage can be legalized in the Kingdom. But if it occurred in the Kingdom without a marriage permit, then there is little that can be done. “Woman trapped in such a situation — where her husband has abandoned her without divorce and she cannot turn to the law — cannot claim to be a legal wife,” he said. “However, there are religious bonds that cannot be ignored. A woman in such a situation can turn to Shariah for help. She can return to the sheikh who conducted the marriage, tell him that her husband has abandoned her and ask him to get her a divorce according to Islamic law,” he added.

But this does not entitle her to get alimony from her husband. Tayib said that if there are children then the matter is different. “The presence of children changes the status of the marriage. In such a scenario a wife can go to court and file a case after which the matter can be legally investigated. The party that was victimized will be compensated,” he said, adding that there are no penalties for getting married without a permit.



Communicating With Saudis

By Suzan Zawawi
Saudi Gazette

These are only guidelines to follow and are not strict rules:

1. Be patient when you want anything to get done.

2. Expect to be interrupted by others while conversing. Or the person you were talking to suddenly stops to talk to another person and then never finishes your discussion. Don’t take it personal.

3. Try to be on time for a social gathering, but don’t worry if you are 45 minutes late. Probably no one would have noticed and if they do it’s because they expected you on time because you are a foreigner. The other guests might be late up to an hour and a half. When it comes to work related appointments, always be on time but expect to wait.

4. Most social gatherings are not scheduled on a specific time. Saudis tend to invite guests to their homes or invite themselves to friend’s homes without specifying time rather referring to afternoon or evening or even prayer times.

5. Most social gatherings are usually after sunset (Maghrib) or night (Isha) prayers.

6. During a social gathering not much is discussed. It’s mostly full of small talk and pleasantries. Although they might seem trivial to some, such small talks are used to strengthen relations, create new ones and cement old ones. Human bonding is vital to the success of any relationship in the Middle East, whether it is social or business.

Small talk and pleasantries include:

– Asking about your health and wellbeing.

– Asking about the wellbeing of your children and parents, in-laws, and nearly every relative.

– Talking about family, except female members of the family if the discussion is among men.

– Sports and especially soccer and the stock market for men. The weather is not a popular topic since it is consistently hot. The exception might be if it hails or if it rains so much so that the streets are flooded or a bad sand storm hits the city such as the one that covered the Eastern and Central region this weekend.

7. If you speak Arabic, don’t be surprised if a Saudi asks ‘How are you?’ in five different ways. This is especially true in social gatherings of women folks. You could answer once then if asked again try to ask them how they are. But it’s tricky because Saudis are so fast greeters that it becomes hard to say anything in the middle of a Saudi asking you how you are a half a dozen times all at once.

8. Be prepared to be asked very personal questions, especially among women. However, you don’t have to answer them if you don’t want to, but try not to offend the Saudi since, he/she is just trying to get to know you better and he/she didn’t mean harm.

9. If you ask a Saudi a question and you do not get a reply, ask a second time. If still no straight answer is given, this could indicate a negative response but the Saudi doesn’t want to embarrass him/herself or you, or it could indicate that he/she has to think about it first before responding. Don’t persist, they heard your question.

10. Don’t blame or directly confront Saudis

11. Listen to the body language. It speaks louder than words.

12. The word ‘Inshallah’ might mean any of the following; I hope so, I will try my best, please give me time to think about it, No, but I don’t want to offend you, and maybe.

13. Also look out for hidden meanings such as ‘It is difficult’ or ‘I’ll do my best’ these probably mean ‘no, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.’

14. If you wait for your turn in a discussion or meeting you might never get it. Speak loud and firm when you want to be heard.

15. Try to learn basic Arabic; it will be your survival kit.

16. Silence is not seen negatively; do not feel awkward when silence occurs when with Saudis. Since Saudi culture is a collective culture, being together is emotionally sufficient.

17. Beware of not offending, but never do anything which conflicts with your core values.

18. Don’t stand too close or look directly at the opposite sex.

19. Don’t get frustrated and waste your energy by getting mad when plans change. Go with the flow.

20. Sometimes you need to follow up, double check and remind Saudis for things to be done.

21. Don’t misinterpret small talk as genuine friendship; it is a social warm-up mode.

22. Watch what Saudis do in social gatherings and follow their lead. For example, notice if they take off their shoes before walking into a house or room, if they greet every individual with a kiss on the check, a single handshake or a general ‘Salam’ to everyone in the room. If you can take a Saudi friend with you to a social gathering, he/she can lead you on what is expected of you and inform you of who is who in the gathering.

23. Do not expect Saudis to act or react the same way you would. They were raised differently and are from a different culture.

* Suzan Zawawi is a Cross Cultural Consultant with an MA specialized in Cross Cultural Communication. Share your cross cultural experience or send in your cultural questions to


Advice On Marrying A Saudi And Living in Saudi Arabia

By Tara Umm Omar
9 April 2006

This is not an attempt to discourage anyone from marrying a Saudi national. It is written for both non-Saudi men and women from an Islamic viewpoint. No one should go into any marriage with rose-colored glasses and marriage to a Saudi is no exception. You should prepare yourself and know the advantage and disadvantages of being married to a Saudi before you make the commitment. If you are a Muslim reading this, please do not forget to pray istikharah insha’Allah.

1. The Saudi marriage permission is required for any Saudi male or female who desires to marry a non-Saudi. These days it is hard to obtain unless your husband knows an influential person (called “wasta” in Arabic) or pays through the nose with a hefty bribe in order to get the permit approved quickly. Ideally the spouse must apply for the marriage permit BEFORE marriage. However there are cases where the marriage permit has been granted after marriage and even after children have been sired before approval. Warning: the marriage permit might be rejected if this is allowed to happen. There are even cases of the non-Saudi/Saudi couples being punished by either having their marriage application rejected or the process is dragged out without any resolution (files are “lost”, put out of sight and mind or locked away in drawers).

2. It is highly advisable that you meet your prospective spouse AND his/her family before marriage. Muslim women should be represented by a wali/wakeel (male guardian) and be present at all meetings between her and the brother she would like to marry. Saudis are very family-oriented and spend a lot of time with their immediate and extended families. He/she can not disown their family if they do not accept you. This does not mean that they should allow their family to treat you badly and come to your defense if needed. You should take this into consideration and discuss family living arrangements with your spouse if you decide to live in Saudi Arabia. Especially since you might be expected to reside with in-laws if the husband doesn’t have a separate residence or can’t afford one right away.

3. Saudi men are allowed to marry Christian and Jewish women. Children will most likely be raised as Muslim even if the mother never reverts to Islam. Children of Saudi men born to non-Saudi women automatically receive Saudi citizenship but children of Saudi women and foreign men do not.

4. Women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. You will have to depend on your husband (or other male family member) to drive you around and run errands for you. Otherwise you will have to take a taxi or hire a driver. Some men do not accept for their women to ride alone with a strange man, whether from his family or not. It is more acceptable if you are accompanied by another woman or a son/daughter who has reached puberty. It is possible to walk whenever you can however women who do so alone have been harassed.

5. Wife must get husband’s permission for herself and children before traveling within or outside of Saudi Arabia regardless of the transportation method. In some cases the husband’s verbal permission is sufficient however it is better to have a written permission just in case.

6. If you apply for Saudi citizenship will have to relinquish American citizenship. You will need to write a document and sign it under oath with the American Embassy that you are not giving up your American citizenship. After the Saudi government takes your American passport then the American Embassy will grant you a new one. You are not obligated to apply for Saudi citizenship however in some circumstances it would make things much easier for you.

7. Limited job opportunities for non-Saudis due to Saudization of some private sectors and high unemployment rates. If you do not speak Arabic then your choices are even narrower. If not self-employed, most non-Saudis are employed in the education and medical fields.

8. Read and research the Islamic religion, history, culture, and society of Saudi Arabia before living there.

9. Saudi men are allowed up to 4 wives but they need prior permission from their wife/wives. Contrary to popular belief, polygamy is not practiced widely due to high dowry of Saudi women, difficulty of obtaining permission to marry non-Saudis, and high cost of living.

10.A non-Saudi wife of a Saudi has to be sponsored by her husband on the iqamah. If a non-Saudi is divorced or widowed from her Saudi husband, she can sponsor herself and apply for her own iqamah. The latter is conditional, she MUST have a Saudi child/children.

11.If divorced, the wife may lose her children immediately if she has no prior agreement with husband to share custody. This is because the Saudi courts follow the Hanbali madh-hab (Islamic school of thought). The mother can retain custody if the father refuses to take the children or she can prove the father is incompetent in raising the children. The son has a choice as to which parent he would like to live with. Before marriage, the couple should stipulate in the marriage contract a custody agreement on any future children in the event of divorce. This should also include their place of residence. Also, if the ex-wife remarries then the husband retains custody of the children per Islam.

12. If you buy a house/villa/apartment make sure it is in your name and make sure you have the paperwork officially stamped in the courts.

13. Mutawwa (religious police) still exist is some areas of Saudi Arabia and often frequent the malls. They do not hit with sticks anymore but will tell you to cover your hair or face. If they come to “correct you”, gently advise that they should be speaking to your mahram. If you do not have a male present with you, and it is not your belief that you should cover your hair/face, thank them and just go on about your business. However, since you are in a Musim country, it would be nice if you cover out of respect. Arguing or getting violent with them never ends well. The Qur’an advises us to argue in a way that is better…honey draws bees better than vinegar.

14. In some areas you will have to wear the abayah (black coat), hijab (head covering) and even niqab (face veil). The Eastern Province and Jeddah aren’t too strict while Riyadh is conservative. This also depends on your husband.

15. You might be required to keep interaction with strange males at a minimum and only when necessary. Saudi society is segregated. In most places male and females do not mix freely.

16. Entertainment can’t be compared to the West so you must be creative. The following can be done for fun:

A. Science center

B. Shopping in malls with indoor amusement parks, video arcades and food courts

C. Picnics

D. Desert drives in 4×4’s on sand dunes

E. Outdoor amusement parks

F. Women only salons, malls and internet cafes

G. Sports (some compounds have golf courses)

H. Camping and cave exploration

I. Museums

J. Historical and Islamic structures

K. Join a fitness gym or learn a martial art (girls are discouraged from gym in some schools)

L. Ice skating

M. Fishing

N. Scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, jet skiing, boating, swimming (for women on private beaches)

O. Weddings, Eid and circumcision celebrations

P. Internet cafes, billiards, arcades with video games

Q. Join an expat club or Islamic center

R. Cinema (Comment provided by Sis Ayesha: There is now a cinema in Jeddah. It is located at the Sawary Landmark on North Malik Road. It shows films daily at 6, 8 & 10 pm. The shows are family types or cartoons. Families, fathers with children and wives are able to enter. No single guys. Its 30SR for each ticket and you can choose your seating. Its actually quite nice, we’ve been several times.)

S. Desert forays (hashes), hunting and camping. You can ride camels, miniature ponies, horses or dune buggies for a fee.

T. Zoo

U. Festivals (Janadriyah)

V. Fairs (International cuisine and crafts, book fairs)

17. Women won’t be able to wear a bathing suit or swim on a public beach but there do exist private compounds with beaches where you can.

18. There are no churches or synagogues. Non-Muslims must practice their religion in privacy.

19. Women are allowed to open a bank account, start a business, and own real estate in their name. The majority of government offices and some private establishments are dominated by males so the husband or male guardian is mostly responsible for submitting paperwork and transactions. Some places have women-only sections, such as banks.

20. Depending upon the hospital, the husband can be present when the wife is in labor and during delivery. Doulas are on call.


Future Husbands And Wives Of Saudis

Future Husbands And Wives Of Saudis is an information page for non-Saudis of any nationality who plan to marry a Saudi. Insha’Allah I will always present realistic information on Saudi Arabia and being married to a Saudi, both the good and the bad. I believe that any non-Saudi woman or man who plans to marry a Saudi should research the matter beforehand so as to make a more informed decision. This blog contains advice on the marriage permission procedures as well as what to expect, Saudi culture and any other relevant subjects related to marrying a Saudi and on the country of Saudi Arabia.