Abu Dhabi


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Thu, 21 Nov 2019 08:48 GMT

Libya’s Turmoil Shakes Deep-rooted Wedding Traditions

Media & Culture

Abdelsatar Hetieta

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 19:53 GMT

Haroun, 55, is a Libyan from Ajdabiya town, east of the country. He has a 21-year-old son Mohamed who works in a petroleum company. Mohamed has fallen in love with his 19-year-old neighbour.

On proposing to her, Haroun paid 1,000 Libyan dinars ($700) to the bride-to-be's father as a means of proving his seriousness until they reach a deal about the dowry and wedding details.

The girl's two brothers, who joined the armed militants that fight the army in Tripoli, stood in the couple's way simply because Haroun supports the National Army led by Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

"Why do she and I have to pay for this? Such differences will come to an end one day, but my misery for losing the girl I love will live on forever."

Since 2014, Haftar has been launching a war against militias and terrorists. Political upheaval and civil strife in Libya had a strong impact on the traditions of marriage and its arrangements and has also led to a rise in the divorce rate.

In Benghazi, Abdel-Nabi Bawi, a director at the Libyan Social Solidarity Fund, told 7Dnews that since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011, "there have been new aspects taken into consideration when it comes to marriage, such as the political background of the couple and their families, the engagement procedures and the dowry."

Libya's population is about six million people, at least one quarter of whom live abroad after fleeing the chaos and fighting that followed Gaddafi's death. Since then, the political conflict and the ongoing war in the country, coupled with the widespread use of social media, have divided the Libyans over political and regional bases. They also led to the he failure of marriage arrangements between couples, as happened with Haroun's son.

Once the marriage details are agreed upon, the couple starts contracting singers and poets for the wedding party. Folk poets in Libya are considered the country's mouthpiece, voicing the public opinion on political and economic issues in an artistic mould at public occasions.

For example, Alkilani Al-Meghraby, a well-known poet, says that if one or both of the couple's families used to support former President Gaddafi, no reference can be made during the wedding to the uprising that toppled his regime in 2011.

Al-Maghraby was awarded the "Poetry Award" by Gaddafi, and since the leader's assassination, the Libyan poet has never missed a chance to lament the previous regime through his poems in private salons.

Until 2014, Al-Maghraby had to keep silent about Gaddafi's regime in weddings where the families were upholding the 2011 uprising.

"Things have changed now," Al-Magraby told 7Dnews. "In today's weddings, poets and singers can openly speak about the stability which the country used to enjoy during Ghaddafi's presidency, for everybody is aware of the deteriorating conditions in the country."

Five years ago, Libya was caught between two governments: one in the east headed by Abdullah al-Thani and loyal to the National Army under the command of Haftar, and one in the west under the leadership of Fayez al-Sarraj and supported by a militia army.

This resulted in a split between families. Now some considerations precede the approval of any marriage proposal. This has also caused a division in the work of ministries and institutions.

On his twitter account, Mohamed Beltamer, the head of the Civil Registry Authority, wrote last February that the number of divorces in Libya increased to 4,091 in 2018.

The Civil Registry Authority, based in Tripoli, reveals that the number of divorces was about 3,800 cases in 2017, and 3,500 in 2016. However, officials in the east of the country believe that the rate is even larger.

Beltamer works in a ministry affiliated to the National Accord Government in the west, whereas Bawi works in a ministry under the interim government in the east. Both of them, however, note that divorce rates are growing nationwide, for political and economic reasons which have sharply affected people's moods and lives.

Since the 1980s until the beginning of the new millennium, the average employee's salary per month ranged from 120 to 180 dinars, while the price of the gold ounce (the bride's dowry) was about 4,000 dinars.

The bridegroom was required to offer 20 or 25 ounces of gold (100,000 dinars) to his bride, some of which were presented before marriage. The rest were offered in arrears in case they got divorced.

"Marriage expenses were also high during the 80's, but since 2000 and until the downfall of Gaddafi's regime, people were able to afford the dowry," Bawi told 7Dews.

"But today, due to the country's deteriorating conditions, people were forced not to be strict about taking the whole dowry in advance, as they used to in the past," he added. The bride's family would get just a part of it, and the rest would be postponed."

Most of the people in the oil-rich country were easily able to afford the marriage expenses, which included the lavish dowry, the rental of the wedding hall and the banquet.

All this has changed because of the civil wars and the decreases in income. Reports released by the Tripoli-based Audit Bureau show that Libya is witnessing an economic decline and liquidity insufficiency in banks. Bawi tells 7Dnews that he got married in 1996 when the country's conditions "were not as tough as today".

"I was asked to offer 20 ounces of gold to my now-wife, 5 ounces of which were presented in advance. And I had to sign a pledge to offer her the rest in case we get divorced," Bawi said, adding that he is lucky to have a stable, happy marriage with his wife and four children.

Bawi said that in the past, the primary and sole problem a suitor might face was providing accommodation for his would-be wife.

"This dilemma was resolved after 2011 because of the random construction of houses that were rented or sold to the marrying couples," he said.

"However, some young men are still unable to afford buying houses, so the couple have to live with the groom's family which result in serious rows that sometimes lead to divorce," Bawi added.

One of the tricks which the marrying couple resort to in order to overcome the political reality is that they disregard their families' support for the army or militias. "But when this is discovered, more serious problems take place," Bawi said.

As for the financial obstacles that stand in the way of the marrying couple, the bridegroom sometimes asks the bride behind her folks' backs to offer her borrowed jewels to put on the wedding night, after which he'd take them back. Mothers began to discover this trick, and now they insist that the dowry and jewellery offered to their daughters must be kept in their house.

In the conservative, low-populated country, families were keen on holding extravagant wedding parties. But since 2011, this tradition has radically changed as many of the Libyan young men are no longer able to rent a posh wedding hall or throw a costly banquet. Wedding hall rentals may reach 5,000 dinars, and the banquets cost almost the same.

According to Al-Magraby, most of the young people are no longer able to afford such huge expenses, so the bridegroom agrees with the bride's parents on splitting the wedding cost. Sometimes the wedding takes place quietly without a celebration or singers or poets to save expenses.

"When a truce was declared during the Muslims' Eid Al-Adha on August 12th to ceasefire between the army and the militias, I felt optimistic," Haroun said. "I thought of encouraging my son to give it another try and re-propose to the girl he loves," he added.

"But the truce was over, and the fighting broke out again."