03/07/2007, 00.00
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Saudi women discriminated against even in marriage with foreigners

Even if granted the elusive visa, husband and children remain non nationals, guests in their own country. Instead it is the men who transmit citizenship to wife and children. Experts: nothing to do with Islamic law but with a mentality closedto basic women’s rights.

Jeddah (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi law creates heavy obstacles to those wishing to marry foreign nationals and discriminates against women by impeding their husbands and children’s claim to citizenship.   Across the Arab world the demand for equal rights in this area is growing, but the process is a slow one.  

Article 6 of the Saudi intermarriage by-law states: “Any Saudi man/woman who desires to marry a non-Saudi woman/man must have acceptable character, nationality and religion, excluding people belonging to beliefs not approved by the Shariah” (Islamic law). Moreover a foreign national is prohibited from marrying a Saudi woman without the express permission of the Ministry for state.

It’s not just a problem of religious law: lawyer Saeed ibn Naser Al-Huresen explains to Arab News that in order to receive permission to marry a foreign national “The Saudi woman has to be at least 29 or 30 years old to obtain the permit when considering marrying a non-Saudi,”. “In other words, she should be a spinster not highly desired by Saudi suitors. In case the woman is divorced, her chances are much better in acquiring the marriage permit”.

The legal procedures are simpler if the intended husband is from one of the Persian Gulf states.

Even after the marriage has been allowed and celebrated, the newlywed couplet problems are not over, because Saudi citizenship is not automatically extended to the non Saudi spouse.  Recently, the Saudi Council approved a law recognising citizenship for foreign women who marry Saudi men. Yet it still does not recognise the foreign husband of a Saudi woman, or their children.

“Male children – continues Al-Huresen – can apply for Saudi citizenship when they turn 18,” he said. “Applications are submitted to the Civil Affairs Department at the Interior Ministry and they will look into the matter. As for women, they are given a special ID card that facilitates their legal and official procedures within the country but they can’t acquire the Saudi citizenship”. Daughters may only have citizenship if they marry.

Despite this, the number of Saudi women marrying non-nationals is on the increase. Local press reports the cases of women who, in order to obtain visas pay a “quota” of up to 40 thousand riyal (10,667 dollars).

Annalists observe that these problems are rooted in a closed social mentality rather than Sharia law, which Amira Kashgary, editor of the daily paper Al-Watan, mains “conservative and narrow. Women, sisters, daughters and wives don’t possess freedom to make these choices. It’s a male-dominant society so this reflects on the woman’s legal and personal rights and choices. A Saudi woman marrying a non-Saudi is still unacceptable as a natural response to the woman’s status in the community”.

A growing number of dissenting voices are calling for equal rights in this field, above all for the recognition of Saudi citizenship for the non-national husbands and children. More to the point, this problem also affects the entire Arab region: in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Iran, only the man can pass on citizenship to his wife and children, the woman cannot.  But in Algeria a recent law granted women the right to transmit nationality, while in Egypt after years of legal battles this right has been extended, only in the case of children.

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