Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Goodbye Saudi Arabia: Woman journalist blocked from emigrating (Saudi Arabia)

A brave account by journalist Hassna'a Mokhtar on her attempts to emigrate to Canada with her Arab-Canadian husband. For what should be a straightforward procedure, she is called names and approached for bribes all while her husband is refused legal status.

Make sure you read the surreal conversation between the Mokhtar and the woman at the marriage license office. Especially on how this journalist is blocked from seeing her son by her Saudi ex-husband.

Saudi Arabia is alarmed at the number of women who want to marry foreigners and leave the country? Golly gee, now why would all those ladies want to do that? Maybe because it's the most backwards country on the planet for women and mothers?

Goodbye Saudi Arabia
Hassna’a Mokhtar (FIRST PERSON)

11 March 2010

The decision to leave my country came after I knocked on many doors of the Saudi bureaucracy, hoping in vain to obtain the God-given right to live with my Arab-Canadian husband in the country of my birth.

Instead of a residency permit, I was called names and degraded. Why? Because I, a Saudi, had chosen to marry a non-Saudi. Not only was I humiliated, I was also approached for bribes of up to SR40,000 (about $10,600) by people claiming to know how to manipulate the system. My husband was kicked out of Saudi Arabia twice because his temporary status had lapsed. At one point in this ridiculous process, an immigration official lost my husband’s Canadian passport.

It was at the end of this long, fruitless and humiliating journey that I realised giving up and moving to Canada was the best decision to make.

Living constantly in distress because my country refuses to grant my beloved husband legal status is infuriating. I tied the knot in June 2008, but only after a year of frustration in order to obtain the Interior Ministry’s permission.

At one point in that process my father-my legal guardian-escorted me to the ministry to obtain legal recognition of my marriage. At the marriage license office, I interrogated the woman behind the desk. “I see many women applying to get married to non-Saudis. Is the number increasing?” I asked. “Why is it so difficult to get the permit?”

“There are at least six or seven women applying every day,” she answered. “The country wants to protect you and grants you your rights.”

I refrained from scoffing at her reply.

“I have an 11-year-old son from my Saudi ex-husband,” I said sharply. “I can’t see my son whenever I want to.”

She paused for a minute and her look softened. “You’re a reporter. You’ve got to write about the situation of women,” she said, almost pleading.

She then told me her story: That she too was planning to marry a non-Saudi, but that she had been told she would have to resign in order to get the permit. “I don’t want to lose my job,” she said. “At the same time, he’s a really good man and I’m afraid of losing him.”

This goes against everything I have learned about Islam. I am no scholar, but as I understand it, for a Muslim woman to marry, the requirements are: The consent of both parties, for the groom to be a Muslim, dowry to be paid by the groom to his bride, witnesses and a public announcement.

I don’t see anywhere in these rules a nationality test for marriage. It is not written in Saudi law, either. But the reality on the ground is that the bureaucracy throws up roadblocks for Saudi women who want to marry an outsider.

I was taught in school that in Islam an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab or vice versa, just as a white person is not superior to a black person or vice versa. What matters are piety, moral standing and the content of one’s character and soul. Islam teaches us that these are the only requirements for marriage.

Why is my husband denied residency? Is it because I am a woman? This most certainly is the case.

If a Saudi man desires to marry a non-Saudi or two (or three or four) he is automatically issued a residency visa with the marriage certificate. Not only that, but after a few years and a couple of children, the non-Saudi wife is granted Saudi nationality. Their children are also Saudi by birth whether they are born in Saudi Arabia or on Mars. The same does not apply to a Saudi woman.

In addition to the unwritten bureaucratic hurdles, a Saudi woman married to a non-Saudi does not have inheritance rights and her children are not considered citizens.

While I am writing this, my husband is filling out the application to sponsor me as a permanent resident in Canada. He downloaded the applications from the Internet, gathered the required documents and followed simple, printed instructions. The request could be accepted or it could be rejected, but the process is simple, straightforward and easy to comprehend. Nobody asks for bribes, and Canadian officials aren’t offended by the fact that a Canadian wants to marry a non-Canadian.

So while I say goodbye to Saudi Arabia and hello to Canada, I would also like to express my hope that the situation will improve for Saudi women in their own country.

Hassna’a Mokhtar is a Saudi journalist. This article first appeared in Arab News