The relationship between states and their citizens has, of course, been a topic of heated discussion in philosophical and political circles for many decades. Laws enacted by states are quite often controversial for one reason or the other. Other laws may be opposed by people because they restrict activities, such as free movement.
But the recent laws enacted by Saudi Arabia on marriage are truly bizarre and infringe into what should be a purely personal matter. They lay down that no Saudi man can marry a woman from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Chad or Burma and also puts in place tough restrictions on marrying Moroccan women. This law is obviously openly discriminatory in nature — rather like some of the other laws in place in the Kingdom. Since the Saudi government has made no statement on it, it is unclear what motivated this step. Already, under the existing Saudi regulations, persons from outside Saudi Arabia wishing to marry a Saudi must make an official request with much bureaucracy involved in processing it. There is, so far, silence on whether a Saudi woman can marry a man from any of the countries named, but it is safe to assume that this is also probably not allowed.
As a matter of principle, no state should have the right to determine who a citizen chooses to marry. The fact that the Saudis have laid down checks on this further limits personal freedoms in that country. If cases of abuse or exploitation of any kind were involved, this should be explained. The singling out of specific countries also verges on the edge of racism of some kind and is in its nature offensive. We can only hope that Saudi Arabia will reconsider the measure or, at least, provide a full explanation as to why it was thought necessary. There are, after all, many other issues in that country, which require priority attention, including the granting of basic rights to women who are held back from all kinds of day-to-day activities. It is these matters that lawmakers in Saudi Arabia should be taking up.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2014.
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