Yet to attain the heights of industrialized countries, divorce rates have been climbing in every Arab Gulf state. In Saudi Arabia, a divorce rate of some 20 percent was reported in the last couple of years. Translated into real numbers, this means that 33 Saudi women get divorced daily. The high court in Jeddah reported last year divorce rates in the Red Sea city had jumped by 60 percent over the previous two years while it reached 39 percent in the capital Riyadh.
In a symposium held late last year in Kuwait, a study presented by Dr. Abdulaziz Alahmed estimates the divorce rate in Kuwait at over 25% while in Qatar at 38%. In the UAE, the rate amounted to 46%.
The statistics have created intense debates over the issue with experts cite many reasons for the staggering figures which alarmed local government officials and religious leaders.
The rapid technological development the GCC states witnessed in the past decades is one of the major reasons for the rise in divorce rates, according to social experts. The "oil boom" gave a boost to women's education, but this has not been accompanied by a parallel change in traditions and attitudes. Thus, many men, experts claim, don't know how to cope with educated women.
Experts also claim that the strict rules segregating the sexes are blocking the couples from creating "normal" relations after they get married. In a conservative country like Saudi Arabia couples simply can't go out before they get married, and some don't see their spouses until their wedding night. Even after they get married, it is difficult for couples to go out together…..
In a recent seminar held in Riyadh, many specialists claimed the proliferation of TV shows which do not reflect traditional and local values as a principle culprit. One study even indicated that 78 percent of Saudi youth rely on mass media for their sex education.
Other types of marriages with less economic responsibilities for the husbands also damaged the tradition. Among these are “summer marriages” and “Mesyar marriage” whereby they relieve men of financial responsibilities and other obligations, including having to reveal them to family or other wives. The popularity of these arrangments have grown in the Gulf after new fatwas (Islamic edicts) supported them.
As things seem at this stage, it is likely to assume that divorce rate in the Gulf region will continue to rise unless authorities take serious steps to curb it.