As the cost of marriage to Saudi women is rising due to the ever more extravagant dowries and huge pressure to offer lavish wedding celebrations, Saudis and men elsewhere in the Gulf are turning to Syria to find brides, particularly men who are married already.
The phenomenon reaches its height in the summer months, when many men travel to Syria for their holidays with their wives, only to return with a second wife. Women who accompany their husbands there are naturally often jealous and afraid of finding themselves replaced entirely in their husbands’ affection.
Sayidaty, a sister publication of Arab News, spoke to some of those concerned and heard that the proverbial beauty of Syrian women has wide-ranging consequences in a world where marriage remains too often a financial proposition.
Ali Al-Misar is a Saudi employee who has been visiting Syria for a number of years. “I recommend marrying a Syrian woman. They really are the ideal women. They have a realistic attitude to life and, what’s more, they are very beautiful,” he said.
Muhammad Al-Oufi, a freelancer in Al-Ahsa, disagrees. “When Saudi men marry Syrian women, it only contributes to the problem of spinsters here,” he said. “Of course these marriages can be successful, but too often there are differences in customs and traditions.”
Al-Oufi adds that his own wife tends to be rather jealous when they are in Syria because she is afraid he may take a second wife.
Saudi men prefer Syrian women to brides from elsewhere in the Gulf, according to Abdel Qader Al-Duheilan. “I have visited Syria with my Saudi wife for a number of years now, and she does feel jealous when I leave her in the apartment alone or when we go to the market and she sees all the women around,” he said.
“The jealousy of some wives is so deep they actually demand a divorce before their husbands travel abroad. But I say the wise wife though knows how to keep her husband without ruining her life,” he added.
Married to a Syrian woman who has borne him three children, Hamdan Al-Batly says they are very happy together. Syrian women, he says, are wonderful homemakers and obedient to their husbands. “And they’re not overly demanding like women from the Gulf,” he added.
Sometimes it runs in the family. Fahr Al-Fareeh, from Kuwait, went to Syria to marry a Syrian girl “because my brothers before me had married Syrians and they were happy.” His wedding is to take place soon.
Umm Khalid, 27, is a Syrian married to a 46-year-old Saudi man. She says she has been her husband’s second wife for eight years and has borne him four children. She visits her family in Syria every year for two months, then returns to Saudi Arabia. She says she has found what all women want — “comfort, love and happiness.”
“His first wife used to keep her distance, but now she is used to me being around and we actually have a cup of tea together every night, and we all holiday together in Syria in the summer.”
Umm Saoud, the first wife, says she got over her jealousy by and by. “Every woman gets jealous and wants her husband for herself and would hate to share him with anyone else. But after being presented with a fait accompli — well, things change and you adapt to the situation. What else can you do?” she said.
Married to a Qatari businessman, Umm Abdullah is a Syrian who has had a happy experience and says her husband is good and kind and they love each other. They live in Qatar. “I did experience some roadblocks at first which made it difficult to adapt — such as differences in food and customs, but after three years of marriage I am used to everything and enjoy my life in the Gulf.”
Not many Saudi women would speak to Sayidaty, but Umm Hamzah from Jeddah had this to say: “During the holidays our husbands meet Syrian families, and often this leads to marriage. It’s normal for Gulf men to have a number of wives. It is annoying, because most women don’t really like the idea of polygamy. It feels as though the new wife is reducing your share of your husband.”
No figures are available for how many Syrian women are married to men from the Gulf, but there must be thousands, if not tens of thousands. In most cases the women are married for the first time but become a second wife. The age difference is often great, and in a number of cases unions are arranged like business deals.
— Arab News Features 26 September 2003