With tens of thousands of overstayers in the Kingdom, marriages between Saudis, expatriates and overstayers is inevitable. However, such marriages come with problems and many are seemingly a front for prostitution as this reporter investigates.
"A friend of mine met and fell in love with a Southeast Asian overstayer. They ended up marrying, although, of course, it wasn't an official marriage recognized by the Saudi authorities. It was just a nikah," said Muhammad Al-Sayed, an Egyptian expatriate, speaking about a friend.
"Problems began after a year, when they had their first child. They couldn't register him, since the mother was living illegally in the Kingdom," he said, adding, that being unregistered, the father could not even take the baby to a government hospital.
"Since his income is pretty low he couldn't bear medical expenses at a private hospital. This caused a lot of tension between both husband and wife, and finally they divorced. The wife walked out and the baby stayed with the dad," he said, adding that the dad tried looking after the baby and finally, exasperated at not being able to cope, abandoned him in front of a mosque after dawn prayers. One Saudi citizen, who asked not to be named, fell into a relationship with an African overstayer, who became pregnant. The couple then married. After the baby was born, the Saudi man divorced the woman and left the child with her. The woman then married another man with whom she had three children.
Since the family was unregistered, they experienced a lot of problems. The parents finally placed the children in an orphanage run by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
In order to know more about these types of marriages, this reporter decided to enter the world of marrying an overstayer. Dressed sharply in a thobe, finding a matchmaker in Makkah was not a strenuous task.
In Al-Mansour Street - a common thoroughfare used by car owners to pick up passengers - I stopped to pick up a Southeast Asian expatriate looking for a ride.
I plucked up some courage and asked, "I'm looking for a non-Saudi wife. Do you think you could help?" He hesitated and apologized saying he was not a matchmaker. "It's a good thing. God will reward you," I said. After some gentle persuasion the man agreed and asked me to meet him the next day at a certain location in Makkah.
The following day, I arrived at the previously agreed place. A woman came and asked, "Are you Khalid?" I had told the man my name was Khalid and so I said yes. The woman then climbed into the back of my car and told me that the Southeast Asian man had asked her to come and see me.
"Why do you want to marry a foreigner so urgently?" she asked. In reply, I told her that dowries to marry Saudi women are very high. "The dowry will be SAR 21,000 (approximately USD $5,600) and you will also have to cover expenses for the marriage registrar (ma'zun), which is an additional SAR 5,000," she said.
I declined her offer for marriage saying it was too much. "I could marry a Saudi woman for that much," I told her.
On her way out the woman said, "There is another type of marriage, which is much cheaper. But you will only be able to meet your wife for an hour each day. You'll have to fix the time with her. You're not allowed to ask her where she lives or where she goes."
Intrigued, I continued listening. "This type of marriage will cost you only SAR 5,000 (approximately USD $1,333.35) and SAR 1,000 (approximately USD $266.67), each month for her expenses," she added. I agreed to the offer and agreed to meet her the next day. The next day the woman arrived, accompanied by the bride - called Reem - and a man, who claimed to be a ma'zun. The woman asked me to come to her home but I suggested doing the marriage in a public place. They agreed and the marriage contract was written.
Surprisingly, the ma'zun did not even ask for my ID. He simply registered my name (Khalid) and wrote out a marriage contract. He asked us if we agreed to the marriage and congratulated us.
The man then asked if I have any conditions. "Faithfulness is the most important thing to me," I replied innocently. They smiled at each other, and at my naivete.
He then asked the woman if she had any conditions. "I live with my family and I cannot spend the night outside. So we can meet at my friend's apartment and do what we want to do there, without informing my family," she said. I agreed.
The ma'zun then asked me for the dowry. I told him I did not have the money with me at the time and that I would bring the money next week. I then drove the group to the Al-Mansour District. I promised to meet them the next day, but I didn't bother turning up, I had seen enough.
A few days later, I decided to marry another overstayer from the same district. With the help of some overstayers I made contact with a matchmaker, who asked for only SAR 2,000 (approximately USD $533.34), and some time to find me a bride.
A few days later the matchmaker - an African woman - took me to the Sharea Ghourab District of Makkah. When we arrived in the area, she asked me to park my car and proceed on foot. Walking through narrow alleyways I saw a part of Makkah that I had never imagined existed.
Having climbed a steep mountain, we entered an old house. In the main lounge was seated a Nigerian man. The matchmaker spoke to the man in a foreign language at which the man nodded and left the room to return a short while later with three women. He then told me to choose whichever one I wanted. The first woman was a Yemeni national called Abeer, the second was an Ethiopian woman called Safiya and the third was a Nigerian woman called Safi. All three were aged in their 30s. "Abeer is divorced, Safiya is married to a man from Ethiopia and Safi is married on Mesyar to five men here, who visit her according to a fixed time schedule," said the matchmaker.
"The dowry for anyone of them is only SAR 2,000. On the day you visit, the woman will be ready. So you choose the one you want," she added. "I wouldn't mind marrying all of them for that much," I said, adding that I needed to go to an ATM machine to get some money for the dowry. The woman led me out and when I got to my car I drove off leaving her standing.
It does seem that such marriages involving overstayers are only a cover for prostitution. Even sincere marriages with overstayers only end in tragedy with the children paying the price for their parents' mistakes.
Speaking about finding abandoned children in front of mosques, Maj. Abdul Muhsin Al-Mayman, spokesman for Makkah police, said, "These kids are immediately transferred to hospitals for a health checkup and then placed in the care of the Ministry of Social Affairs." He added that marriages need to be officially registered and that marriages with overstayers, according to Saudi law, are illegal since overstayers are not recognized by the law as being able to live and reside in the Kingdom.