Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- A new technological revolution has hit Saudi Arabia, with young men and women searching for life partners via the internet. It appears that internet companies are proving to be fierce competitors to conventional matchmaking methods, which include marriage bureaus and family mediation. This new and unconventional method of finding a life partner, has been spreading throughout Saudi society over the past five years. Abu Omar, a Saudi young man from Al Khobar district supervises one of these marriage websites, explains that the internet services have begun to replace magazines. He states that since the internet is a more efficient method, it has become more popular and draws the attention of both men and women.
Ahmed, a young Saudi man who chose the internet as a tool to aid him in getting married said, “I’m totally convinced of this method of getting married, and I find no embarrassment in endorsing it. Everyone wants to find a life partner, however the community finds unconventional methods of finding a partner as a failure and violation of customs and traditions. However, this is totally legitimate, since as we develop, so do circumstances and mentalities”.
There are some internet users who have claimed that some participants in the service are not serious. Abu Omar argues, “We seriously attempt to ensure that the information we are given by potential applicants is valid and authentic”. We omit any inappropriate comments, incorrect information or obscenities, and we are on track to removing any requests that are not genuine.
When asked which of the sexes was more likely to use the service, Abu Omar stated, “Men make up a greater percentage of the total number of users of the website. We have 212398 registered users, of which 167422 are men and 44889 are women. This is mainly due to the fact that women in our society face many restrictions in our conservative society; men on the other hand can enjoy all freedoms and can easily access the internet without supervision.
He added, "The men of today want to have a say in their choice of life partners unlike before when their mothers and sisters chose partners they did not know on their behalf. The lack of personal choice has led to an increase in divorce rates, and similarly the higher rate of unmarried women has encourages women to look into marriage websites”.
The number of marriages that have resulted from these websites indicates their success. Abu Omar commented, “There is a high rate of marriages which have occurred over the past five years as a result of these websites. We are currently working on compiling statistical information to back up this claim. With the information already available to us, we can assume that 2000 marriages have taken place, including 300 in Saudi Arabia. Only 6 cases have resulted in divorce, and some of the divorced members have resubmitted marriage requests via the website”. Abu Omar went on to say, “We take subscription fees from men, but due to the lower rate of female participants, we do not ask for payment to join the service.
Dr Hind Khalifa, a specialist in sociology and youth has suggested that this new technologically phenomenon is the result of a mutiny by young people against some traditions and customs. She argues, “In the past, families used to choose wives for their sons in accordance with our conservative society. The rise in this method of marriage indicates that our youth wish to depend upon themselves and are determined to make their own decisions”. She added, “It is very difficult for our conservative society to accept this move away from conventional methods. Families question the idea that their daughters should make their choice of life partner via the internet. There is a traditional idea that partners should be chosen for young women from within the family”.