View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine’s Day in the Middle East

Readers might be interested to read these reflections on Valentine’s Day in Saudi Arabia, written by Rajaa Alsanea, who is a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry and the author of “The Girls of Riyadh.” Much of the description is similar to what happens in the UAE and in the Gulf region.

The article appears in the New York Times, 13 February 2008 and is entitled, My Saudi Valentine’. Here is just an excerpt:

TOMORROW will be my second Valentine’s Day in the United States. As I’ve discovered, the celebration here bears little resemblance to the one I know from growing up in Saudi Arabia.

Yes, there are dates. But in Saudi Arabia, we eat them. As for the other kind of dating — the kind that will fill restaurants here tomorrow night — don’t count on it.

Where I come from, dating in the Western sense is not acceptable, either socially or religiously. Though most Saudis sympathized with “the Qatif girl” — a young woman who was gang-raped while in a car with a male friend, then sentenced to 200 lashes for “mingling” — and relieved when King Abdullah pardoned her last year, that does not mean that sitting with a strange guy in his car is considered appropriate.

Some daredevils do meet in coffee shops or restaurants that have partitions to separate the tables so nobody can see the illicit couples. After all, being a Saudi means knowing what the rules are — and how to sidestep them without getting in trouble. But most young women prefer to get to know the guy through accepted channels like the Internet, friends, family or the phone.

These days, Saudi relationships start on Facebook or through Bluetooth. We “date” over the phone or by instant messaging, and we enjoy exchanging gifts — through our chauffeurs or housemaids….

The rest of the article can be found at this link.

Image: There will be no red roses in Saudi Arabia as the government bans St Valentine’s Day calling the celebration of it as a sin. For more see, ‘Saudi Arabia Bans all things Red Ahead of Valentine’s Day, CNN, 12 February 2008.