Yemen: Social Politics of Weddings

Yemen: Social Politics of Weddings
Sat 23-11-2013

Yemen has been the center of attention of the Middle East since the world started knowing more about their wedding and marriage politics.

Recently Al-Monitor shared and article on the social politics of weddings in Yemen:

"Yemen has unique and violent traditions that give a special character to its weddings, which are costly and lavish, especially considering the country’s low per capita income. The weddings involve traditional clothing, knives and guns, which sometime kill people, as happened in Ibb province in September, when a tribal sheikh was killed by celebratory gunfire. That incident resulted in the signing of a popular document criminalizing shooting at weddings. Yemeni law already banned that practice, but the law was not being enforced."

"A year earlier, a Yemeni Airways civilian aircraft carrying 150 passengers was hit by a stray bullet fired by wedding revelers as it was about to land near Sanaa International Airport."

"The phenomenon of mass weddings is spreading in Yemen. In October, a mass wedding involving 4,000 brides and grooms took place in Sanaa, without intermixing; the brides and grooms were kept in separate halls, and no camera phones were allowed."

"The largest mass wedding in Yemen was organized by the Orphan Foundation for Development and funded by former Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Two years ago, that same foundation organized a mass wedding that was the largest at the time and was funded by the late Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz. The change in funding source is due to the changing regional alliances of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Orphan Foundation is considered to be one of the Brotherhood’s social tools. And the compass of financial flows after the Arab Spring — under the guise of charity work — shifted from Riyadh to Doha."

"In Yemen, as soon as a young person reaches puberty, their only concern becomes marriage. Most young men and women marry between the ages of 15 and 20, with the bride younger than the groom. The marriage of female minors has become a national issue, after parliament was blocked under pressure from adopting a law regulating the matter. Religious forces see early marriage as a way to protect young people from sexual deviancy."

"Also, when a family needs a new member to work in agriculture — in rural areas in particular — the family marries the son regardless of his age or financial capacity. There is a local tradition in such cases to ignore the fact that the bride is not yet sexually mature and postpone sexual intercourse for several years after marriage."

"Also according to tradition, the family chooses their son’s wife in light of the social separation between the sexes, whereby the man does not meet the girl before marriage except in an unusual circumstance and with the knowledge of the family. As for the girl, her family informs her only after the young man requests to marry her. The decision to accept or refuse the marriage is patriarchal for both parties, except in the few cases when the father is educated and cultured enough to take his daughter’s opinion into consideration."

"Sometimes, there may be a special kind of marriage based on the social relationship between the two families or on agreement between two young men to exchange their sisters as wives (al-shighaar marriage). In the latter case, each young man marries his friend’s sister without paying financial compensation, as is the case in some parts of Yemen. Its consequences are often disastrous for the girls, when one of the young men divorces his wife — the friend’s sister — because that forces the other man to also divorce his wife even if their marriage is happy and stable. So it is like breaking up a partnership between two parties. Such marriages may have purely material motivations, especially in wealthy rural households. Since the wife is supposed to inherit half of what the man inherits at the death of the father or mother, such partnership marriages prevent the family’s wealth from being inherited by someone from outside the family."

"Marriage is affected by the existing political system. The regime of former President Ibrahim al-Hamdi (1973-77) for instance developed strict laws to set the dowry at modest amounts (in northern Yemen at the time) and bar lavish celebration and celebratory shooting. But those laws died with Hamdi’s assassination."

"A few months ago, a Yemeni wedding turned into a political issue that preoccupied public opinion, when a wedding convoy affiliated with a tribal sheikh and partisan figure opened fire on three youths because their car got too close to the bride’s car. Two of them were killed."

"In Yemen, weddings are intermixed with politics. The results of the two are similar. Both are practices whose consequences are not considered except after they are applied, and they end up distressing those who apply them."