Rise in breakups and divorce in Lebanon mirrors socio-economic changes across the Arab world

Special Economic pressures, evolving social attitudes and the changing role of women is fueling divorce rates in Lebanon. (AFP)
Economic pressures, evolving social attitudes and the changing role of women is fueling divorce rates in Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 11 September 2022

Rise in breakups and divorce in Lebanon mirrors socio-economic changes across the Arab world

Rise in breakups and divorce in Lebanon mirrors socio-economic changes across the Arab world
  • Economic pressures, evolving social attitudes and the changing role of women are all taking their toll
  • Recent study shows Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the Arab countries with the highest divorce rates

BEIRUT: As globalization transforms most aspects of modern life, the nature of family and family life is no longer what it was even 10 years ago. The usual stresses and strains on marriage have been compounded by the growing trend of people moving away from their families and countries of origin in search of a livelihood.

That the Arab world is not insulated from these profound socio-economic changes is evident from the rise in the number of couples choosing to separate in several Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A recent study by the Egyptian Cabinet’s Information and Decision Support Center found that Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the Arab countries with the highest divorce rates.

In Kuwait, 48 percent of all marriages end in divorce, 40 percent in Egypt, 37.2 percent in Jordan, 37 percent in Qatar, and 34 percent in both the UAE and Lebanon.

“On some days, we have up to 16 divorce cases in this court alone,” Sheikh Wassim Yousef Al-Falah, a Shariah judge at Beirut’s religious court, told Arab News.




Newlywed couples pose for a picture at the Roman acropolis in Baalbeck in the Bekaa valley. (AFP/File Photo)

“The increasing divorce rate is a phenomenon that we have not seen before, although we do not favor divorce and focus on reconciliation.”

Experts believe this trend has been driven by a combination of economic pressures, evolving societal norms, legal reforms and, above all, the changing role of women.

“Women no longer feel that they need men,” said Al-Falah. “Many wives have stood before my court, rejecting any settlement with their men because they feel that they are capable of being independent and do not want men to control their lives.”

Through much of history, especially among the more conservative cultures of the Arab world, a woman’s place was long considered to be in the home, handling the needs of the family, while male relatives studied and went to work.

Now, as Arab nations modernize their economies and reform their legal systems, women are becoming more independent, increasingly pursuing higher education, progressing in their careers, and choosing to marry and have children later in life.

As a result, Arab women have developed a keener awareness of their civil rights, personal ambitions and self-respect. They increasingly refuse to tolerate domestic violence and are capable of supporting themselves financially.




As Arab nations modernize their economies and reform their legal systems, women are becoming more independent. (AFP/File Photo)

“In the past, women used to hesitate before taking the decision to ask for a divorce, keeping in mind that this option is not available within all of Lebanon’s sects and is hard to reach within some sects,” Manal Nahas, a researcher whose postgraduate diploma focused on the issue of divorce in Lebanon, told Arab News.

“However, the current statistics compiled by the religious courts that handle the personal status of Lebanese citizens and foreigners residing in Lebanon reflect an increase in divorce requests, especially those submitted by women.”

The rise is viewed as a byproduct of wider changes in social attitudes.

“This generation of women look at divorce differently,” said Nahas. “Women are no longer obliged to tolerate abuse like their mothers and grandmothers used to.

“Today’s women are educated, they work and they occupy high positions in their areas of work. There is now equality between men and women. The average age of marriage for women in the decades after the war was 24 years old, and today it has risen to 32 years as a result of social progressiveness, economic conditions and women’s participation in the labor market.”

Nahas added: “In addition, women are cherished in their parents’ home before they get married. Therefore, getting a divorce is easier for them than continuing to live in an unbearable marriage. Divorce in Lebanese society is no longer considered a stigma.




Lebanese women take part in a protest in front of Lebanon's Supreme Shiite Council to ask clerics to increase the age at which custody of children for divorced Shiite Muslim couples can be awarded to the mother, in the capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

“Most parents now re-embrace their divorced daughter instead of rejecting her. There has been a societal change. Almost everyone experiences divorce, as this is no longer considered a hard decision to take.”

In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationship also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown.

“My husband has been working in Africa for many years and I live with my children in Lebanon,” Neemat, 34, told Arab News at the religious court in Beirut, where she was seeking a divorce.

“We decided to separate in a friendly way after our life together became unbearable. He will be covering the child support and has fully paid his dues to me through the deferred marital payment.”

Al-Falah said this kind of relationship breakdown is common.

“The most unsuccessful marriages are those in which the husband migrates abroad to work and the wife remains in Lebanon,” he said. “When the spouses meet up, they discover that they are unable to live with each other. Such marriages do not last in general.

“However, if this marriage produces children, we try to repair the relationship between them because we do not want to harm the children.”




Family values are cherished in Arab culture, and authorities — both religious and secular — tend to prefer that parents stay together for the sake of their children. (AFP/File Photo)

Not all divorce proceedings are as amicable as Neemat’s, however. Al-Falah said he has handled several extremely acrimonious marital disputes.

“I have started receiving couples in my office where the wife or the husband was subjected to domestic violence at the hands of their spouse, although domestic violence targeting women is more common,” he said.

“The further we go from the city, the more domestic violence becomes one of the reasons for divorce, especially in remote areas. We do not try to repair this type of marriage because we do not want to partner in a crime.”

Reforms to the legal status of women in Lebanon have drawn particular attention in recent years, with the introduction of a slew of legislation designed to protect them from sexual harassment and domestic abuse. However, human rights monitors say the reforms do not go far enough.

In December 2020, for example, the Lebanese parliament passed a law that criminalized sexual harassment and outlined measures to protect whistleblowers, but failed to meet international standards for tackling harassment at work through labor laws.

Parliament also amended a domestic violence law to expand its scope to include violence related to — but not necessarily committed during — marriage, enabling women to seek protection from their ex-husbands. However, it did not criminalize marital rape.

Lebanon’s 2019 financial collapse and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic appear to have piled further pressure on relationships as living standards plummeted, people lost their jobs and households were forced into long periods of constant close proximity under lockdown.

“After the quarantine caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed an increase in divorce requests,” said Al-Falah. “Some couples discovered that they could not tolerate each other and the rift between them became apparent.

“The rate of divorce requests increased after the economic crisis intensified; husbands stopped working, the banks stopped cashing out deposits, and soft housing loans were no longer given out.

“We are witnessing cases of divorce requests for couples who have lived together for 13 or 20 years, which was not the case before. We can say that divorce rates increased by 35 to 40 percent in Beirut’s religious court during this year.”




Each religion chooses the rights that suit its program, so wide recognition of women's equality is difficult, says Claudine Aoun, president of the National Commission for Lebanese Women. (Supplied)

Several countries around the world reported spikes in domestic violence during the pandemic and Lebanon is no exception. The nation’s economic woes and disruption to court procedures during the health crisis appear to be making matters worse.

KAFA, a Lebanese nongovernmental organization established in 2005 to campaign against domestic abuse, recently warned of “the dangerous repercussions of the institutional collapse in Lebanon of social and family security.”

“The suspension of the judges’ services in Lebanon will have a negative impact on women and children suffering from domestic violence,” it said.

The organization highlighted “the exacerbation of domestic violence and the increasing rates of violent incidents targeting women, which have led to the killing of three women in a single week.”

The figures for divorce in Lebanon might be somewhat skewed by the growing use of marriage as a means of gaining citizenship in another country, as waves of young people move abroad in search of better opportunities.

“There is a divorce for those whose marriage was based on convenience,” said Al-Falah. “For example, husbands who move abroad and want to marry a foreign woman must prove that they are not married back home for them to marry and then obtain the nationality of their new wife’s country.

“After obtaining the new nationality, they remarry their original wife, whom they divorced back in their home country.”




In Lebanon, where a large segment of the population has moved abroad to find jobs with better salaries, the difficulty of maintaining a long-distance relationships also appears to play a part in marriage breakdown. (AFP/File Photo)

Lebanon is a multi-confessional country. Following the 1975-1990 civil war, the nation’s religious communities agreed to share power through a complex division of authorities and separate institutions governing community matters, including marriage and divorce.

Lebanese citizens will often move between sects to facilitate a divorce. Couples from the Maronite sect, for instance, the courts of which forbid the annulment of marriage in all but the most extreme circumstances, might turn instead to the Catholic or Orthodox sects, which allow the annulment of marriages.

They might even turn to the Sunni sect to access divorce procedures before converting back to their original sect. According to Shariah, divorce — known as khula — has been permitted since the time of Prophet Muhammad.

Obtaining a divorce in a Sunni religious court is considered easier than in a Shiite religious court, after these courts developed new rules that raised the age for child custody, amended the dowry and banned underage marriage.

Civil society groups have called for an optional civil personal-status law in Lebanon. Currently, many young Lebanese from all sects travel to Cyprus or Turkey for civil marriages. The civil courts in Lebanon agree to register such marriages but religious authorities continue to reject them.

Family values are cherished in Arab culture, and authorities — both religious and secular — tend to prefer that parents stay together for the sake of their children. Experts believe marriage counseling, better education for young couples, more open discussions about relationships, and even a relaxation of the social taboos surrounding premarital social interaction between men and women could help reduce overall divorce rates.

Al-Falah said many divorces are “a result of disputes caused by the fact that the marriage was not built on solid foundations. The rate of this type of divorce is high because the education that young people receive does not include proper decision-making or family guidance.”

 


Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel
Updated 05 October 2022

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

Lebanon suggests amendments to maritime border deal with Israel

BEIRUT: Lebanon has submitted to the US a list of changes it would like to see in a proposal on how to delineate a contested maritime border with Israel, a top Lebanese official said on Tuesday.
US envoy Amos Hochstein has shuttled between Lebanon and Israel since 2020 to seal a deal that would pave the way for offshore energy exploration and defuse a potential source of conflict between Israel and Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hochstein sent a draft proposal to Beirut last week. It was discussed on Monday by President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
Deputy speaker of parliament Elias Bou Saab said he had earlier that day submitted to the US ambassador in Lebanon the amendments Beirut would like to see, without providing details.


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He said he does not think the proposed changes would derail the deal and that, while the response did not signify approval of the draft, talks were so advanced that “we are done negotiating.”
Speaking to local broadcaster LBCI, he said the draft deal had been produced by thinking “outside of the box.”
“We started to talk about it as a business deal,” Bou Saab said.
The 10-page draft appears to float an arrangement whereby gas would be produced by a company under a Lebanese license in the disputed Qana prospect, with Israel receiving a share of revenues.

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While that company has been officially named, Lebanese officials have publicly suggested a role for TotalEnergies SE . A top Israeli official was meeting company representatives in Paris on Monday, according to a source briefed on the matter.
Bou Saab on Tuesday said that, according to the draft deal, Lebanon had secured all of the maritime blocs it considered its own.
He added that Lebanon will not pay one cent from its share of Qana to Israel.

 

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Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
Updated 04 October 2022

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman

Jordan’s King Abdullah meets with sultan in Oman
  • King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s efforts to bolster security and stability in the region
  • Two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry

RIYADH: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq on Tuesday expressed keenness to bolster bilateral relations in all fields during a meeting in Muscat.

During talks held at Al-Alam Palace in Muscat, the two leaders agreed to advance joint economic cooperation in trade, investment, and industry, Jordan News Agency reported.

King Abdullah and Sultan Haitham stressed the need to step up the trade exchange between their countries and called for the Oman-Jordan Joint Committee to reconvene after the king’s visit.

The importance of bolstering cooperation between the private sectors in the two countries and maintaining coordination and consultation on various issues of mutual concern including food security and energy was also discussed.

King Abdullah expressed appreciation for Oman’s continuous efforts to bolster security and stability in the region.

The monarch also highlighted the importance of supporting the Palestinians to seek their just and legitimate rights, and the need to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II.


Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
Updated 04 October 2022

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships

Yemen govt slams Houthi threats to attack oil ships
  • Houthis ordered operators to stop shipping oil and minerals from government-controlled regions
  • Militia group refused to renew UN truce and resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale

AL-MUKALLA: The internationally recognized government of Yemen has slammed Houthi threats to attack oil ships and called for international action to stop the group from damaging civilian infrastructure and power sources.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak described the threats as “criminal and terrorist activity,” adding that the Iran-backed Houthis had no respect for international agreements prohibiting attacks on civilian facilities.

“Such a threat is unmistakable evidence of these groups’ terrorist nature, which is nothing new to Yemenis. It is crucial that the world understands how this terrorist organization operates and how it disregards fundamental international laws and conventions,” he told Arab News on Tuesday.

The minister’s comments came as the Aden-based Ministry of Transportation urged foreign shipping companies to continue their operations despite Houthi demands that they stop movements of the country’s oil.

In a letter sent on Monday to agents of shipping firms operating in Yemen, the ministry’s Maritime Affairs Authority said they should carry on exporting the nation’s oil, gas, and minerals from government-controlled ports and not comply with Houthi demands or threats.

“Memoranda or circulars will not be considered unless they are issued by Aden’s Presidency of the General Authority for Maritime Affairs,” the government’s maritime body said in the letter seen by Arab News.

The Yemen government’s request came a day after the Houthis officially ordered ship operators to stop transporting oil and minerals from government-controlled regions, threatening to target their vessels if the demand was ignored.

On Sunday, hours before a UN-brokered truce expired, the Houthis’ Minister of Transport Abdul-Wahab Yahya Al-Durra sent a letter requesting firms to cease shipping the country’s oil and other natural resources by 6 p.m., accusing them of looting Yemen’s resources.

“Any navigation activity that violates standard procedures will be treated as an illegal act that jeopardizes national interests, and we hold you fully responsible for violating it,” the Houthi minister said in his letter, also seen by Arab News.

The Yemeni militia group has refused to renew the UN truce and has resumed aggressive military operations in Marib, Taiz, and Dhale.

The Houthis threatened to target oil ships docking in government-controlled areas in a bid to deprive the government of financial resources unless it paid all public employees in areas under the group’s control, reopened Sanaa airport, and lifted alleged restrictions on fuel ship movements through Hodeidah port.

The Houthis’ refusal to open roads in Taiz has also hampered efforts to keep the truce in place.

The Yemeni government has said that the Houthis should pay public employees in their areas with the millions of dollars earned from fuel ships passing through Hodeidah port during the truce.

Yemen’s Oil Minister Saeed Al-Shumasi recently told Al-Ghad Mushreq TV that the country exported 2 million barrels of oil every two months from oil fields in the southeastern province of Hadramout, plus 600,000 barrels from the southern province of Shabwa.

The Dhaba oil terminal in Hadramout province handles most of the country’s oil exports to international markets.


UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
Updated 04 October 2022

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought

UAE provides aid to Somali people hit by drought
  • Relief efforts continue to pour in to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million
  • The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority

ABU DHABI: A ship carrying nearly 1,000 tons of aid to Somali people hit by drought is the latest contribution of the UAE to the relief effort.
The ship, which docked in Mogadishu last month, will distribute its cargo to help meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people, reported Emirates News Agency (WAM).
The aid effort is part of a coordinated project with the Emirates Red Crescent Authority, the Zayed Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation and the Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation for Humanitarian Works.
The distribution has been expanded in the past week to camps in the most badly hit areas, including Mogadishu and in the Mahas and Mataban areas of Hiran governorate in the Hirshabelle region.
The aid is a collaborative effort between UAE relief agencies and the Somali Disaster Management Authority.
The drought facing Somalia is the worst in decades. The UN World Meteorological Organization has predicted the country will face a fifth successive failed rainy season.
More than 7 million Somalis face humanitarian issues and are in need of food, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
 


Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
Updated 04 October 2022

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money

Savers storm Lebanese banks to demand their money
  • Retired diplomat entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh and refused to leave until he was given his savings
  • A retired security officer entered BLC Bank in Bekaa and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine

BEIRUT: A former police officer brandishing a weapon and a retired ambassador were among savers who stormed banks in Lebanon after they partially reopened following a week’s closure after earlier raids.
Georges Habib Siam, 76, the honorary consul general of Ireland and former protocol director at Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry, entered the IBL branch in Hazmieh, Mount Lebanon, and refused to leave until he was given his savings.
Ali Deeb Al-Sahli, a retired member of the Internal Security Forces, entered the Chtaura branch of the BLC Bank in the Bekaa, and demanded that $4,300 be transferred to his son in Ukraine, who was evicted from his house and expelled from university due to a lack of money.
A video shared on social media showed other savers cheering Al-Sahli, before bank employees are seen taking his weapon, before detaining and then handing him over to security forces. Another video showed Al-Sahli saying he would sell his kidney for money.
Ali Hassan Hodroj, another saver, demanded that staff in the Byblos Bank branch in Tire, southern Lebanon, hand over his savings of around $44,000. He was able to recover some money, which he handed over to another protester outside before surrendering himself to police.
Meanwhile, dozens of employees of the Kadisha Electricity Co. stormed the FNB’s Tripoli branch, demanding their full salaries and allowances after the bank deducted 3 percent.
The latest attempts by Lebanese to get their money came two weeks after hold-ups at seven branches, which led to banks closing for a week in protest.
The Lebanese financial system has been in turmoil since 2020, with the Lebanese pound losing most of its value. The country’s banks have restricted depositor withdrawals from their dollar accounts and any money taken out in local currency has been subject to exchange rates that have rendered it almost worthless. Meanwhile, authorities have yet to enact a recovery plan.
Hassan Moghnieh, the head of Lebanon’s Depositors Association, told Arab News: “The situation is going to get worse as long as there is no radical solution to the issue of withholding deposits.
“Ignoring this will lead to more chaos, despite all the measures taken, since all people have deposits in banks.”
Assad Khoury, the head of the Syndicate of Bank Employees in Lebanon, said: “Things will not be resolved by storming banks. A comprehensive solution is required. The responsibility lies primarily with the political authority, which is still trying to deny its responsibilities.”
The Association of Banks in Lebanon said that it had no control over financial or monetary policies, and its members were not the decision-makers.
In a statement, it said: “The state withdrew $62.6 billion from the central bank. These sums were spent on maintaining subsidies, stabilizing the exchange rate, high interests, electricity, the state’s import needs, and others.
“When the crisis began, the central bank had reserves of about $33 billion. Today, reserves have fallen to about $10 billion.
“When banks tried to speak up in an effort to change the situation, the head of the ABL was prosecuted.
“If the situation continues, the International Monetary Fund will stop negotiating with Lebanon, the central bank’s reserves will be depleted, and the state will be unable to secure any purchases from abroad.
“Lebanon would thus be unable to secure the minimum necessities of living, such as electricity, water, medicine, telecommunications, etc., and hope of recovering deposits would fade, and the local currency would depreciate even further,” the association statement added.