Monday, March 15, 2010

Divorce Saudi-Style

Divorce Saudi-Style

Divorce is one of those things, like many in Saudi Arabia, which is exceedingly easy for men to obtain, but quite difficult for women to achieve. When a Saudi man wants a divorce, all he is required to do is to simply say “I divorce you” three times in front of a couple of witnesses (male, of course). However when a woman initiates the divorce in this country, she is required to go through the legal process in court before a male judge, and prove her case, which may or may not result in her desired outcome. Also, for the divorce to be granted, the woman is almost always required to repay the full amount of the dowry paid to her or her family when she was originally married, which could be a considerable amount, and even though she may have been married for many years.

A recent case which made the news here involved a 20-something-year-old young woman who was pressured by her family into marrying an old man in his 80s who already had three wives. The old man had offered to pay a dowry of 50,000 Saudi Riyals (about $13,000 US) to help out her financially strapped family, plus he promised to provide her with her own home – a promise he failed to keep. She had even withdrawn from her educational pursuits at a university in order to get married. So even though the octogenarian lied to his young wife by making empty promises, she cannot get a divorce from him until she repays the dowry, which her family has already spent. In the meantime, the young woman is miserable being married to a dirty old man and has no legal recourse.

A bizarre Saudi divorce case came to light in the spring of 2009 when a Saudi court upheld the divorce of a man who actually texted his wife on her mobile phone that he was divorcing her. Because the darling man had immediately notified two of his friends who were at his wedding as to how he had just divorced his wife via text messaging, the court accepted the manner in which the man chose to divorce his wife and found it perfectly legal and adequate.

Earlier this year a Saudi cleric came out and said that it’s perfectly acceptable, according to Islam, that girls as young as ten can be married, and even added that “those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her.” Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh’s comments came in the wake of the ensuing uproar caused when a Saudi judge failed to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl to a 47-year-old man. The marriage was arranged by the girl’s father as a way of settling a debt, a fairly common practice among less educated tribes in Saudi Arabia. The outrage sparked by this decision eventually helped get the case assigned to another judge who granted the annulment, but only after the father admitted that perhaps the marriage wasn’t legal in the first place.

So, if Islam says that a woman’s permission is legally required for marriage, how can a father here basically sell his underage daughter into marriage and this act still be considered acceptable according to Islam?

Years ago typical arranged Saudi marriages had a fairly low divorce rate - although this doesn’t necessarily mean happy marriages, since Saudi men are legally allowed up to four wives, and Saudi women have a much more difficult time obtaining divorces than men. Nowadays the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia has increased so alarmingly that it is not all that far behind that of the United States. Some of the possible reasons for this upsurge include polygamy, abuse, age differences, family interference, not religious enough, not responsible enough, or not generous enough, when in fact it could have everything to do with men who are unable to deal with the now educated women of Saudi Arabia.

To read more on this topic, a recent post by Achelois - Raw and Uncut called "The Virgin Bride's New Tricks" discusses a new phenomenon sweeping the Arab world, and Eman over at the SaudiWoman blog posted her excellent take on the realities of Saudi divorce a few months ago.

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