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Keep it in the family.

The UAE is helping to cut wedding costs and offering other financial incentives to encourage more Arab men to marry Arab women. The oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s brought an influx of foreigners and the number of exclusively Arab marriage declined. Now the government is trying to preserve Arab social values and cultural traditions.

The national anthem is played under a full moon in a public park. Forty bridegrooms are celebrating their wedding under government patronage. A Marriage Fund now gives substantial grants to eligible young bachelors, provided they vow to tie the knot with local Arab girls.

All this is part of a spirited campaign in the UAE to keep Arab social values and cultural traditions of the desert region free from alien influences.

High dowry demands by the girls' parents and the heavy cost of wedding receptions often prevent young Arab men from marrying local girls. They are also tempted to wed foreign women because of their modern education and broad outlook.

Foreign women's entry into conservative Arab households frequently leads to a clash of culture and friction between members of the family.

The authorities in the UAE therefore hit on the idea of helping young citizens to overcome the difficulties in finding local marriage partners. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed al Qasimi, the ruler of Sharjah, started giving loans to local young men three years ago and holding mass marriages to cut expenditure on individual weddings and receptions.

At the seventh such ceremony since 1990, 40 bridegrooms celebrated at a mass reception attended by 5,000 men in Sharjah's Al Jazira park. It was a lavish party. The local media reported that six tonnes of food were served and 10,000 plates spread on tables all over the park along the seashore.

But because the party was for 40 weddings, it saved every bridegroom Dh50,000 ($13,500) on a party in a hotel. In addition, every bridegroom was entitled to a Dh30,000 ($8,300) loan if he could prove he needed it. The interest-free loan is repaid in easy installments over three years.

When the problem of "foreign wives" persisted, despite efforts to discourage them through loans and other incentives the federal government decided to launch its own Marriage Fund this year, with a minimum allocation of Dh50m ($16.6m). The Fund has already exceeded Dh80m with contributions from cultural bodies and philanthropists.

A 12-member board of directors will administer the fund under the chairmanship of the labour and social affairs minister, Saif al Jarwan. He said the Fund aims at maintaining the identity of the UAE as an Arab and Muslim state as well as its traditions and heritage.

The Fund will provide a grant of not less than Dh60,000 ($16,260) and not more than Dh70,000 ($19,000) to any UAE man wishing to marry a UAE national. He must meet three other conditions: the source of his income should be "limited", he should not be less than 18 years; and should not have previously been paid any aid for marriage. Financial help may also be provided for a second marriage, but only in cases where the first wife is infertile or cannot fulfil her conjugal obligations for some valid reason, and for widowers.

Last year, 1,200 citizens got married all over the UAE. That number is expected to increase this year. The dowry practice in the Gulf is the reverse of the tradition in the Indian subcontinent, where girls' parents have to pay high dowries to bridegrooms' families.

The UAE and other Arab Gulf states have for some time faced the problem of young men being driven by the extravagant demands of girls' parents to seek foreign wives, mostly in Muslim areas of India and Pakistan, at much less expense. Another aspect has been the neglect of Arab girls. Many have to wait a long time to marry or they remain spinsters. An increase in divorces and juvenile delinquency has also caused anxiety. Tensions among spouses of different socio-cultural backgrounds are being blamed.

Accounts have appeared in local newspapers of wedding loans taken on commercial terms, being repaid over years - and even after the couple have had children. Other regional governments have considered legal measures to discourage menfolk from marrying foreigners and imposed certain curbs. The UAE has preferred the path of persuasion and incentives.
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Title Annotation:Mosaic; the United Arab Emirates' program that encourages Arab men to marry Arab women
Author:Aslam, Mohammed
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:Counting the days.
Next Article:Oman rings the changes.

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