New values force Qatari men to spend up to one million riyals ($274,500) to get married

August 14, 2010
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A young Qatari man needs up to one million riyals ($274,500) to get married in a society where wealth has become the only socially accepted symbol of status.

The problem is that although Qatar is immensely rich, with the income of its people reaching $100,000 per capita, not every Qatari can afford to pay the expenses for a marriage, particularly that weddings in the small, close-knit Qatari community where traditions take precedence over personal preferences are a social affair, Qatari daily The Peninsula reported on Saturday.

And even when a young Qatari somehow manages to marry by organising finances, largely through bank loans, his own savings and the family’s help, he is sure to walk into a debt trap and heavy financial pressures.

Several Qataris prefer government employment mainly because it guarantees them social security and soft, long-term housing loans that enable them to build their dream home.

Qatar’s is a conservative Islamic society and Islam forbids lavish spending on anything, including marriage, which must be a simple affair.

However, traditions and a consumerist culture that took roots after discovery of oil in the early 1950s have transformed Qatar’s social fabric.

The rush for riches has led to social values taking a back seat and the result is that people in the community are caught in a hot race.

The spirit of cooperation that was the hallmark of the tribal communities inhabiting the difficult terrain of the Arabian Peninsula has been often replaced by a spirit of unhealthy competition for wealth and showing off, the paper said.

Families today vie with one another in terms of material holdings. If a family has three Land Cruisers and Italian furniture, for instance, its neighbours would like to own four Land Cruisers and the latest and even more expensive Italian décor.

Several Qatari sociologists, including Dr Amina Al Jaber, have worked on these important social issues.

Growing consumerist culture has not spared even the key institution of marriage in Qatar and has made it so materialistic that for Qatari men in limited-income brackets, it remains the most challenging aspect of their life in terms of meeting the exorbitant expenses.

In the past, the government — as well as some charitable organisations — had tried to hold mass marriages for young Qataris to help them, but the experiment flopped miserably because in the consumerist Qatari community no family likes to admit openly that it is less financially able than the other.

“The innate spirit of competitiveness and one-upmanship in our community is mainly to blame for the failure of group marriages. People would like to be burdened for life with debt rather than get involved in anything that is even slightly suggestive that they are accepting charity and are at a lower social rung,” a US-educated Qatari journalist told The Peninsula.

Marriage expenses start early on with the engagement. A Qatari man has to pay dowry (called meher in Islam, which a groom must give to his bride). In cash-rich Qatar, a man is expected to give to his would-be wife a dowry of QR100,000 ($27,450) on average, along with an engagement ring that can cost anything between QR5,000 ($1,372) and QR12,000 ($3,295).

A set of gold ornaments studded with diamonds is normally presented to the would-be bride and its cost ranges from QR60,000 ($16,470) to QR120,000 ($32,940).

The occasion has to be celebrated with at least a women’s party, where members of the two families gather. Some prefer to hold the gathering at home, while others book a hotel. In any case, the average expense the man must bear is QR80,000 ($21,960), according to community sources.

The man and the woman, though still officially unmarried, are allowed to see each other after the engagement, but not in private. The idea is to allow them to know each other. Normally, the man visits the woman’s home and they meet in the presence of a child.

Then comes the main marriage ceremony. Parties are held separately for men and women and the average turnout of guests for each event is roughly 300. The women’s banquet normally entails expenses of between QR120,000 ($32,940) and QR150,000 ($41,176). The expenses for the men’s banquet are separate.

The banquets can be held in a hotel or a marriage hall or a special air-conditioned tent is erected for the purpose. The bigger the tent, the more one has to pay. The average charges for a tent work out to QR80,000 ($21,960).

There is also a practice of holding a traditional Qatari dance at the men’s banquet and it costs an additional QR25,000 ($6,862). The DJ in the women’s function also has to be paid QR7,000 ($1,921) to QR10,000 ($2,745).

The bride leaves with the groom after the marriage and the groom must gift her a heavy gold set the next morning, its price being anything between QR80,000 ($21,960) and QR150,000 ($41,176).

Some couples prefer to go overseas for their honeymoon, which calls for extra expenses running into a minimum of QR100,000 ($27,450).

It is customary for a Qatari man to move out of his parents’ home after marriage. Since a vast majority of Qataris are unable to afford a house of their own, they normally move into a rented place and the monthly rent can be anywhere between QR10,000 ($2,745) and QR25,000 ($6,862).

But the apartment or the rented villa must be furnished and that calls for additional expenses that usually vary between QR100,000 ($27,450) and QR200,000 ($54,900). Some newly married men prefer to change their cars and buy new ones to impress their wives. This means that they must spend another QR150,000 ($41,176) to QR250,000 ($68,627).

Some prefer to take cars on lease and end up paying around QR2,000 ($549) to QR4,000 ($1,098) as monthly rent.

A Qatari man, thus, ends up spending anything between QR750,000 ($205,882) and QR 1 million ($274,500) on marriage. Richer Qataris splurge much more of their wealth on a wedding.

Community sources say that a Qatari man normally takes a bank loan of about QR300,000 ($82,350) to QR500,000 ($137,254) for marriage and arranges the remaining sum from other sources — his own savings or his family.

During the early days of stock trading when several state-backed initial public offerings (IPOs) were floated, Qataris made a lot of money and some of them had no problems spending huge sums on their marriage. Many repaid their loans.

But after the IPO euphoria had died down and the secondary market became more active and regulated, a stock market bust followed, leaving small Qatari investors shocked and dejected. Only the mature investor remained in the market and he expected no financial windfall such as was witnessed during the early days of the stock boom.

Having moved into a rented home, a newly married Qatari couple must set aside no less than QR35,000 ($9,607) to QR45,000 ($12,352) from their monthly income to pay back loans, pay the house rent and meet other expenses.

The vicious circle thus begins and the debt trap deepens. As the days pass by, financial pressures mount, putting strains on the husband-wife relationship. Not many relationships are able to stand the test of time and they begin crumbling as tensions multiply. There are heated arguments that, in many cases, lead to separation and divorce. Many couples have children by then. Once a marriage is troubled, legal battles over the custody of the child or children ensue, along with the woman’s demand for alimony.

Such a situation, according to Qatari sociologists, explains the high rate of divorce in the society — around 38 of every 100 marriages that take place with so much aplomb break up, the paper said.

Sociologists say that while the demands of changing times are breaking up joint families and creating nuclear ones, the survival of the latter is also at stake due to the large number of divorces every year. They are calling for lasting solutions to the problem since it involves the future of the basic unit of society — family.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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