Weddings in Qatar

Thobe attack!

A few seconds after the beep of his phone and a brief reading of the message, Khalel informed me he’d just got married. I asked when? He replied ‘just now.’ Seeing my quizzical face he started to explain. His grandfather was acting as the witness for his wedding contract and the message informed him his grandfather had just signed it. So now following on from the signatures by himself and his fianc√©e, they were now married. It seemed a roundabout way of doing it but you get used to that sort of thing in Qatar. But that wasn’t just it.

At 12 midday, Khalel asked to be excused from the meeting. I asked why. He said he was going to meet his wife. For the first time? I joked. Yes he replied. He meant it. I shook his hand, told him to have a shave and that I am sure she would be beautiful. He was going on the biggest blind date of his life. He was smiling but nervous. Of course he would be!

His wife had been picked by his family from recommendations but specifically after vetting by his mother. This is the normal course of events. Following the signing of contracts, the husband and wife can meet a few times before the official wedding party. They meet and talk, sat apart on a sofa while their mother watches from the door. How many times and when depends on the family traditions. At one wedding I attended, the bride and groom only met the day before the wedding party.

The wife has the right to refuse the marriage but this can have repercussions. It’s an embarrassment for families but more importantly if the fallout turns ugly, the wife is now deemed divorced, a social stigma that is hard to shake. This unfairness is coming to an end but its taking time. The more fundamentally modern unfairness is the denial of personal choice on both sides. As one Qatari woman exclaimed, ‘its bad became there is no love.’

I knew Khalel was getting married but thought it wasn’t for a few weeks. I asked him about the wedding party and yes that would be in a few weeks in Yemen where it was possible to have a week-long wedding party for a fraction of the cost of Qatar. He was going to pay 5,000r (about 1000 pounds) but after advice from his mother, he decided to spend four times the amount.

Weddings in Qatar cost upwards of 250,000r or 1,000,000r (200k) if you are feeling especially lavish. The prime cost is the jewelry, honeymoon and the hiring of two venues because the men and women celebrate the wedding separately in different hotels usually no more than a few miles apart. The women’s party consists of a sit down dinner of all generations and plenty of desserts. No expense is spared and its the groom who foots the bill.

The men’s party is somewhat simpler. Often held in a large tent, the men shake hands with the grooms and the fathers and uncles followed by a huge food buffet always involving lamb and rice and sometime delicacies such as baby camel. After dinner, the party is over for everyone except those closest to the groom. His friends and family then form a motorcade and take him, horns at the ready to the wife’s hotel where he will take her away. That night they will spend with the wife’s family before they go on honeymoon. After that, the wife’s family’s responsibilities to their daughter and sister are relinquished unless a divorce is granted.

It’s commonly known Muslims men can marry four times but this is a rarity heading for extinction. Most Qatari men only marry once. 20% have two wives but less than 1% have four wives. This trend is pushed by the rising costs of living and simple practicalities. Each wife needs a separate house. Households are exempt from electricity and water bills but only on one house. I’ll go into the housing system another day.

Similar some women do not get married preferring to live at home with their family. Families here take care of their own in general but it is not without its perils. A Qatari TV program, one of those morning shows hosting phone-ins discussing marriage featured a call from a distressed, unmarried woman who was left destitute after her parents died and her brothers refused to take care of her. This is a rarity though.

Marriage of course changes the lives of both participants and naturally more so the women. They become responsible for the household (along with the maids) and are soon to become mothers. The number of children has fallen greatly from their grandparents’ generations but families are still large here. The government is actively encouraging it. Women are given paid time off work and for the first two years, they work one hour less for the same pay to give them an extra hour with the infant. Their role in society, work and education is actively championed by Shieka Moza, the second but only-seen wife of the Emir. He has three but the two have never been seen in public.

However talking to Qataris, I’ve been surprised how much the men admit marriage changes them. I’ve heard numerous stories of how they’ve had to leave their boy racer days behind, stop smoking, get home early, put money aside and generally take responsibility for their families. The social expectations from the family, work, government, religion and culture are suffocating. I can sense also a slightly modernising of views too. Qatar is not Dubai but it does seek to fit in with the modern world.

Qataris and especially Qatari women often ask me about Western weddings and where the traditions from the garter, throwing of the flowers, vows and overall structure comes from. I generally didn’t know and looked them up for them. While Qatari weddings are deeply formal, traditional and separate, they are still celebrations of two people nervously coming together. The inequality is less pronounced than you would believe but it still remains.

Formal hair with Soud!

This can all be summed up in one ¬†sentence. Soud who I worked with for 10 weeks often spoke of the preparations for his sister’s wedding. He would drive her to Saudi Arabia where the dress was being prepared. A few weeks later he gave me an invitation to his cousin’s wedding. I threw on a suit and tie and went to the Ritz Carlton, slightly nervous but genuinely pleased and interested in seeing what happens. I lined with Soud to meet his cousin (along with two Sheiks!), got my photo taken, spoke with the seemingly endless cousins and was surprised with their level of English and diversity of hobbies. Later over dinner I asked about the bride and Soud replied ‘its my sister!’ So rather than being his cousin’s wedding it was in fact his sister’s wedding. His rearranging of the participants reflects the event I attended and that weddings are primarily organised for the men to get married. The woman’s wishes are an afterthought for now.

More News From Nowhere

So here are some thoughts on the news of late.

Edward-Snowden1. Edward Snowdon is a traitor we’ve been told. He is of course to the state but he knew that when he released the information on the surveillance. But he isn’t a traitor to the people of the US or the states around the world. If this had been the Chinese reading American emails, it would be called an act of espionage, sabotage, a threat to national security, a threat to liberty, an act of war. The Chinese computer hacking is nothing new. This has been practiced in some form by all states for decades.

If you thought the ‘good guys’ were immune to this kind of immorality, you are naive. And if you think they have more justification, then your belief in your own democracy is seriously defunct. And finally if you honestly believe only foreigners (in this case non-Americans) are being hacked then just wait. This is just the beginning. The state must protect itself. At least in the US you can argue the truth will come out. Whether that makes much difference I doubt. You just need to shout national security and anyone is fair game. This is the country of McCarthyism and Watergate after all. Anything can be justified.

Protesters in Istanbul2. Turkey

I see great parallels and ironies here. While Erdogan was undoubtedly heavy-handed and continues to drive the discontent with his bluntness and uncompromising views, Erdogan is a popularly elected politician who actually enjoys majority support within the country despite the news coverage. The uprising initially over Gezi park in Istanbul is ironic. The middle class have lost out politically over the last decade and yet ride the economic waves Turkey has enjoyed. Erdogan is primarily elected by the poorer and more pious working class especially in East Turkey. Istanbul, the most oldly, cosmopolitan city in Turkey is in uprising at their way of life and liberty being under-threat. But again remember Istanbul is a huge city of 15m people. Takim Square isn’t the city. There are parallels with Thailand’s red and yellow shirt protests here following similar lines except in Thailand they are merely reflective of selfish economics.

Erdogan is ironically using the very same state infrastructure, previously used by the military to promote secularism, clamp on popular if undemocratic protest. Protesting is one thing but the occupation of public space, hindering the coming and going of the majority is essentially undemocratic if performed by a minority. The argument would be public space is for the public and protests is democratic when the political process is invalid. That is not lcear here in Turkey.

Further irony can be noted in Erodgan’s pathetic calling of foreign fermenting of the protests, the kind of statements which usually come from a despot. Erdogan’s interpretation of what is Turkey is also troubling but somewhat understandable. For decades his politics was forcible marginalised by the military. Now his statements indicate only his movement represents Turkishness. He believes he speaks for the country which in terms on numbers is somewhat true. His large majorities might tell him something of that sort but one vote for his party doesn’t sum up a person, let alone a whole culture.

Qatar's Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani at the 12th Arab Games in Doha3. In other news, Qatar is under-going a leadership change. The Emir who’s been ill of late is handing over power to his 33 year old son Tamin. Little is truly known about Tamin. There is talk of his closeness to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood but in reality apart liking sport, not a lot is known. His father who took over in a bloodless coup in 1995 from his father has raised his country’s profile and influence greatly over the past decades. Qatar is best known for its asset buying in the West but is now deeply involved in the politics of the region funding groups in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Egypt. The foreign minister is also leaving his post in the change. His influence is significant and his negotiating skills are said to be widely-admired. How Tamin manages this role with all the security implications is paramount.

I won’t say too much about Syria. Despite recent successes for Assad’s army, we are entering the beginning of the end game. Syria is a mess. The G8 talked of intervention through armed aid but in reality when Assad talks of the foreign plots to overthrow his regime he is right. Iran, Qatar, Saudi are almost directly involved. Now Hezbollah is actively there. Its part of the great foreign policy game but now also an active war between the two major branches of Islam. Russia, Turkey, Lebanon, the EU and the US are next. The people left in the middle are the real victims. (But luckily UNESCO are throwing their weight behind saving some monuments!). The end game might be coming but its going to be very destructive.

4. I am going to Warsaw, Gdansk, Krakow, Katowice, Dresden, Prague, London, Oxford, Tbilisi, Yerevan and Istanbul next month! Hope to see you.

I’ll try to do this more often.

Music and Festival Fun To Come

Its almost summer festival time. This year we’re going to Poland for the Opener festival again. Gabriel, Kaz and I went in in 2009, met up with some Polish friends, enjoyed the weather, vodka, beer and music. Basement Jaxx, Prodigy, The Roots and Arctic Monkeys rocked it up. Coldplay headed one night but we skipped that and the Kings Of Leon put on a good show abeit showcasing a fairly shit album. And that’s what the summer is often about for bands. Showing the world their new albums, selling it over summer before they return in November to encourage the Christmas sales.

This year at Opener the acts are even better and far more tailored to my wishes (Thanks Opener!). Nick Cave, Queens of the Stone Age, The National, Tame Impala, Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart , Modest Mouse, Blur, Crystal Fighters and Castles etc etc. For the price 120 pounds for 4 days, its a bargain. Added to the cheap price of booze and life in Poland, we’ll be happy. I say we because right now 4/5 of us are going plus I’ll catch up with Ola for the first time since Jerusalem in 2010!

So to the albums. These are by no means all but some of what’s been occupying my ears, mind and feet over these last few, hot months.

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork 7/10

Its good, catchy, less rocky, gentler and more heartfelt than before. Maybe Josh is getting older!

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds 5.5/10

Slightly more morose than his more recent albums, more akin to his older albums in the mid-90s, Cave is still a great storyteller and his songs imbue into your bones.

Foals 6/10

Its good but I have heard all this before from British indie rock despite a great depth

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories 8.5/10

This is a long album and full of highlights, middle lights and some tunes you flick by. Its incredibly slick and feel-good and the last few tracks are a real rousing finale. Giorgio by Moroder is absolutely fantastic.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City 9/10

I really like this album. It’s instantly loveable, deeper than the previous efforts. The sound is still diverse, ecletic and booming while the band’s themes are more grown up. Ya Hey is an immense tune.

Kurt Vile – Walking on a Pretty Daze 8.5/10

Ahhh this album puts anyone in a confused or irritated mood take a step back and just relax. Vile’s lyrics contain pearls of wisdom. His languid guitar solos are destressers of the highest order. 9 minute songs fly by. Its perfect for city centre walks here. Vile really takes you into his world.

John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts 8/10

I am a late discoverer of John Grant. My mate Matty raved about him but only this year have I listened. Grant is a serious musician with real talent, direct amusing lyrics writing his sad story with pathos, arrogance and some great one liners.

Primal Scream – More Light 6.5/10

A new album and the first one I’ve wanted to listen to repeatedly since….ahh I dunno….15 years. The opener tells the story. Bobby is a rant over post-modernity. His targets are usually fellow artists who’ve failed to politicise their art, preferring to take the cash and mooch around Shoreditch. Alas while his aim is good, his solutions fal at the door of excess.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me 8/10

Matt’s voice got light and smokier (ironically as smokes less) but his alcoholism and melodic narrative of personal doom continues. Its a more restrained album musically, reminding me of Alligator which is no step back. The drums come to the fore again. The themes are often criticised by non-lovers as samey but in reality like Camera Obscura, this consistency is their strength. Its the nuance that’s important. Heavenfaced is beautiful (along with many others).

Disclosure – Settle 6/10

If anything is samey, its electronic music but while Disclosure maintain their sound in general, they add extra texture with guest vocals and a diverse range of themes. Its a long album. Too long. But while you can stand it, or as background to preparing to go out, its good accompaniment.

Johnny Marr – 5/10

I can’t remember the name of this album. I can’t remember any the songs or any of the riffs. But yet I don’t feel I wasted my time. After each of my three listenings, 20 minutes I couldn’t recall any of the songs but I still felt good about the album. I suppose its catchy, pleasant, then forgettable indie rock. I liked it even if I can’t remember.

Grownass Man – The Shouting Matches 7.5/10

Bon Iver sits in the studio with his two old friends and pulls out some funny, loose country bar rock. Damn its good even if it does feel like a session played in front of friends and family and some approving locals in the middle of Minnesota.

I’d write about more albums but I need another listen. More soon