Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Economics of UAE Marriages

While writing about my travels in the Gulf during 2007, I passed on a few rumors about the high dowries of Emirati brides and the large financial payouts the government was alleged to make to ensure Emiratis only married each other, while noting they smacked a bit of legends about the United Arab Emirates's vast wealth. In his Dubai: The Vulnerability of Success, University of Durham scholar Christopher Davidson has some information on the topic:
"In 2002, the UAE's federal government announced a package of subsidies entitled the 'Sheikh Zayed Marriage Fund', and set up an office within the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to administer the aid across federation. Ostensibly this fund was to provide a one-off payment of about $11,000 in order to defray some of the escalating dowry costs faced by young men hoping to marry. However, more subtly the payment satisfied the twin aims of providing a means of wealth distribution by the state while also giving men a financial incentive to choose a national bride - significantly the marriage fund cannot be accessedif the man intends marrying an expatriate. More restrictively, those national women who choose to marry an expatriate man effectively have to give up their nationality, as their children will not be entitled to a UAE passport and therefore neither they nor her husband will be entitled to the benefits of the welfare state.

Incidentally, are there any Arab countries where women can pass along citizenship to their offspring of mixed marriages? That aside, Davidson talks about more efforts to discourage mixed marriages and thus preserve a cohesive rentier elite:
"Other measures are in place to discourage such relationships, with all internet dating website blocked in the UAE for fear of encouraging mixed marriages, with all state-run educational establishments for national females remaining distanced from society, and with separate leisure and beach clubs available exclusively for national women. And if one of the latter marries a non-national man she would effectively be ostracized from both her family and broader society, even if her fiance is a fellow Muslim. This is a relatively recent and state-induced mentality and is connected neither to religion nor local culture, given that in the pre-oil era it was not uncommon for women from Dubai to marry other 'culturally compatible' Muslim Arabs.

I'm a little surprised by his statements about the recent vintage of resistance to exogamy. Was marriage with people from other areas widespread before oil, or limited to certain segments of society, such as traders? Also, how did the state induce this new mentality?



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