By Doha News
Yousef, a 28-year-old Qatari citizen, fell in love with an Eastern European woman four years ago. The pair decided to marry, but the Qatari government refused to endorse the partnership, and the couple eventually felt they had no option but to divorce. In this opinion piece, Yousef explains to Victoria Scott the difficulties Qataris face when marrying a non-national, and why he believes the system should change.
I met my wife when I was on vacation in Europe. We met through mutual friends, and felt a connection immediately. We fell in love.
I used to be what I’d call a traditional Qatari. I believed strongly in our culture and our values. So, when I met my wife, I asked myself what I was doing. She was a foreigner, not of my faith and from a different culture. Deciding to marry her was a difficult decision for me at the beginning for all of these reasons, but I eventually decided that I wanted to live my life with her; love would conquer all.
A different culture
We married in a civil ceremony abroad, before traveling back to Qatar. It was all entirely new to her. It was her first visit to the country. However, my family loved my new wife and she began to settle in. She adjusted slowly, but surely. She got used to our culture. We were happy. But I soon realized that things might not turn out as I had hoped.
I had thought that she would automatically be granted citizenship and therefore be able to live in Qatar legally for the rest of her life. And that any children we might have would automatically be Qatari as well, and enjoy the same rights I had.
What I didn’t know is that I was supposed to have asked the Qatari government for permission to marry a foreigner.
I discovered that there was a special committee at the Ministry of Interior that hears such cases, and that I would have to go through the process. Without this committee’s permission, my marriage would in effect not be considered legal in Qatar. I wouldn’t be entitled to receive benefits for married employees at my company, or be given land by the government, which is just one of the benefits married Qataris enjoy. Far worse than that, however, was the fact that we wouldn’t even be able to live together in Qatar. Without the Ministry's permission, my wife would be denied even a residence permit.
I thought, however, that this merely was a matter of process.
Love is “not an acceptable reason”
I asked people who’d gone through the same process for tips on how to succeed in front of the committee. They told me that one thing I shouldn't say was that I had married her because I loved her—which was apparently not an acceptable reason. Instead, I needed to write a memo explaining why I couldn’t get married to a Qatari woman.
The Qatari authorities are worried, apparently, that Qatari women won’t be able to find enough Qatari men to marry. They have the right to be concerned about that, but not, in my opinion, enough to regulate our marriages. So, I had to lie. I said that I couldn’t marry a Qatari woman because the expenses were too high, and that I’d asked several Qatari women to marry me, but that they had said no. The law forced me to be a hypocrite. I also didn’t tell them I was already married, as they would have automatically turned me down if they knew.
Converting to Islam
I was also told that we’d have a better chance at being approved if my wife was Muslim. That made no difference to me, as I don’t believe that faith determines who’s good and who’s bad. I'd accepted my Christian wife for who she was. But in the end I asked her if she’d consider converting to Islam to help the process along, and she agreed.
She had to go through a ceremony to convert officially. Then she had a new passport photo taken in a hijab—all of this for me. I submitted the photos, the memo I’d written, and my salary certificate to the panel, and was eventually given an interview date.
My father came with me to support my case, to say he accepted his son’s choice, and choice of mate. The committee—made up of seven men—talk to you like you owe them something, in a very harsh way, because you need their approval. They asked me over and over again why I didn’t want to marry a Qatari woman. They told me my wife’s culture and traditions would be too different, even if she was now a Muslim.
Two days after that meeting, they turned down my request.
But I didn’t give up. I then resorted to wasta. I took my elderly grandfather with me to the Ministry of Interior to see what they could do, hoping that having him with me would make them more helpful, more understanding. It seemed to work. They said they would approve our marriage. I started to celebrate it with my wife—but it was a trick.
There was a second step. The Minister of the Interior himself needed to approve it. I made several trips to that Ministry to ask if he had approved it, as I had learned files such as mine could be kept in an archive for many years with no action. They were nice to me, friendly and polite, but they didn’t approve my marriage. They just kept telling me they’d look into it.
In the meantime, the only option I had was to re-apply for a tourist visa for my wife each month. This went on for two years. My wife was living with my family, but we didn’t feel stable or secure. We knew her visa could be rejected at any time.
Then I heard that the Minister was opening his majlis to citizens, so I went there and told him about my issue in person. He said he’d look into it. The next day, however, I was told that my request had been rejected and that I just should forget about it and not follow it up anymore. They wouldn’t even tell me why.
Then it got worse. The government stopped renewing my wife's tourist visa.
It was a horrendous dilemma. I didn’t want to leave Qatar—it is my home. It was where my family is, where my job is. And if I left my job, I didn’t think I could support my wife financially. So, I decided to do what I felt was right for her. I told her, “We don’t have kids, and you’re waiting for me. I’ve been telling you everything is going to be ok, but I can’t guarantee you anything anymore.”
She had to leave Qatar when her visa expired. We divorced. I was broken. I continued supporting her financially for a while because she had to leave suddenly, but in the end I said it had to stop, and we had to sever all ties. It was hurting me too much.
She has a new husband now, and she has a baby. We keep in touch and I’m happy for her. But it’s painful to see the woman you loved married to someone else, with a kid. That was supposed to be my kid.
My marriage changed me. It took my outside my bubble, and made me question our culture’s values. I didn’t understand why, for example, we Qatari men are allowed to go to clubs where alcohol is served, but at the same time the committee was telling me that my wife’s culture and traditions did not fit ours. It hurt to see my country talking about human rights on the global stage, but then denying citizens the right to marry whoever they choose. And why is it ok to marry a second wife or a third wife, but refuse a man permission to marry just one?
Why my request was refused? Was it because my family isn’t important enough? Do we not know the right people? I know plenty of Qatari men married to foreign women who got their approval in less than a month, just because they know someone in the government. I have so many questions.
I want to start a family, but I don’t see myself marrying a Qatari, or having a traditional marriage. My mindset is too different. I have tremendous respect for Qatari women. They are our sisters and daughters, but this is not about race or religion or nationality. It’s about personal choice.
I think I will have to leave Qatar and live abroad if I want to get married to a foreigner. I hate that it has to be like that. I love my country. I don’t want to leave Qatar or leave my family, but what option do I have?
A version of this article was previously published on Doha News.