THE Shoura Council this week has decided it is not time to simplify marriage laws concerning Saudis marrying foreigners.
By streamlining the law things could become more complicated according to the logic of some lawmakers.But leaving the law the way it is will only continue the heavy burden -- especially for women -- that Saudis carry if they want to marry a foreigner.
There are hundreds of examples of Saudi women in high-level jobs in Saudi Arabia and around the world. These women work in the Ministry of Education or other government jobs or are poets, writers, journalists, film directors, pilots and even race car drivers.
But the Shoura Council apparently believes that they are not competent to choose a husband.Shoura members are frustratingly vague about why they refuse to streamline marriage laws when it comes to marrying non-Saudis. The general argument is that a streamlined system would only increase the problem of spinsterhood.
“Such recommendations would greatly increase the number of Saudis marrying foreigners while we are fully aware of the complications that such marriages create,” Shoura member Abdullah Al-Dosary told a journalist this week.Well, those complications are created by the Saudi government in the first place. Perhaps minimizing the complications that exist in the law would help those marriages.
A friend of mine is a graduate of a US university and she is in her mid-30s. She owns her own home and her own car. She is a success by every standard. Her father is in ill health and she has no brothers. She told me recently of the pain she endured in order to get government approval to marry a foreigner.“I wished that I died before going through the humiliation of trying to get approval,” she said.
She said the looks that male government officials gave her while she was getting her documents processed made her feel as if she were doing something haram and immoral.It has been many months and she still has not received permission. While Saudi marriage laws affect male and female Saudis alike, the resistance to changing the regulations is really directed at women with the age-old argument that Saudi society must protect us helpless females.
While figures are not readily available, Saudi men have a much easier time marrying a non-Saudi than a Saudi women do.Human relationships are complicated and messy. People get married. They get divorced. They have custody issues regarding children. But it shouldn’t be up to the government to regulate the bonds between two people.
Yet, not only does the Saudi government insist on being part of the marriage pact from the beginning by deciding who we can marry, the government also stacks the deck against women from the onset of the relationship.The children of a Saudi mother are denied citizenship if the father is a foreigner. No matter what the future holds for the marriage, the children of a Saudi woman will never be fully integrated into Saudi society.
Despite being born and raised as Saudis, they will never be treated as Saudis, which limits their social, economic and professional opportunities.The same goes for foreign-born husbands. They must be in the country on the wife’s sponsorship or the sponsorship of her father. And unless the foreign-born husband is working for a non-Saudi company, his prospects of professional success are limited. And this doesn’t even address the exclusion he faces as a non-Saudi in society.
For all the worrying Saudi government officials do over whether Saudi/non-Saudi marriages will work, they do their best to set the marriage up for failure before it even beginsThere is a tremendous gap between the attitudes of Saudi men and women about the issue of marriage to foreigners. At the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, most of the Saudi men I know oppose the idea of “their women” marrying foreigners – especially non-Arabs.
There is a proprietary attitude among men that the women in their families belong only to Saudi society.Women, of course, generally feel the opposite. Possessive, paternalistic attitudes among men are not accepted by educated women who are seeking balanced relationships. This does not necessarily mean driving a car, having a job, getting an education or going shopping alone at the mall, but the right to have the choice to do so.
Many Saudi women today no longer find it desirable to walk three steps behind their husband at the shopping center, but prefer to walk right alongside.Since many Saudi men are reluctant to give up these “perks” of male domination in the household, Saudi women are willing to consider marriage to a non-Saudi.
The opportunity to establish a relationship on an equal footing is very appealing. And with this choice, many women are willing to risk spinsterhood or establishing an independent and professional life beyond the Saudi border.So the argument that simplifying marriage laws would only increase the likelihood of spinsterhood is ridiculous.
The government should not be denying Saudis the opportunity to marry non-Saudis. They deny the country the resource of a new generation of smart, well-educated and loyal people by refusing them citizenship. They deny the country a valued resource in allowing non-Saudi men to live and work in an unrestricted environment. They deny the country the valued resource of educated Saudi women who may look elsewhere in the world for professional and personal fulfillment.