Observing Valentine’s Day in the Middle East during a global pandemic

Arab states celebrated the day of love despite lockdowns and restrictions due to the coronavirus.

JAM HEART COOKIES (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
JAM HEART COOKIES
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Valentine's Day, observed each year on February 14, is being celebrated this year for the first time during a global pandemic, creating distance between loved ones throughout the Middle East. While some rituals have remained unchanged, the coronavirus also has sparked new traditions.
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Lovers throughout the Arab world usually celebrate Valentine’s Day by exchanging gifts and roses, in addition to spending pleasant evenings in various restaurants and romantic places. And in some places this tradition continues.
Hotels and restaurants in Dubai this year are holding special Valentine's Day parties, with the cost ranging from the ordinary to the exorbitant.
Bab Al Shams Desert Resort and Spa in Dubai hosted an evening to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Saturday night, which comprised a dinner party for two at a table under the stars in the middle of the desert, including a menu of four different dishes and an unlimited number of drinks and cocktails.
Anantara The Dubai Palm Resort organized an evening that included a beachfront private table with a breathtaking view of the Dubai skyline during sunset, and a seafood dinner for two.   
Suhail al-Zubaidi, an Emirati analyst and media personality with Abu Dhabi TV, told The Media Line that, right now, the world desperately needs to celebrate love, and to make it a way of life all the time, not just on one particular day.
“The UAE sets an example for the world on how to live and practice this love, and I am not referring here to exchanging a flower and a piece of chocolate between beloved ones, but rather the love of life itself and people,” Zubaidi said. 
He added that Valentine’s Day arrived while the region is rife with tensions and disputes, as if it were already doomed to not celebrate the uplifting day. 
“Two hundred nationalities live in the Emirates and live in love. True love is born out of tolerance, coexistence and hope, which is what the UAE offers to its surroundings and to the world,” Zubaidi said. 
Amal Shamali, a 45-year-old mother of four who lost her job as a dental hygienist a year ago, sells edible flowers and homemade chocolates out of her home in the Al-Rasheed suburb of Jordan’s capital, Amman.  “I learned how to make all this while staying at home during the coronavirus,” she told The Media Line. 
Shamali opened her home-based business in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus outbreak. At first, Shamali took orders from family members, friends and neighbors for fruit trays, edible flowers and homemade chocolate pudding. Using a WhatsApp group and word of mouth her business grew to serve neighborhoods throughout the capital. Her husband uses the family car to make deliveries.
Shamali says her products have been in demand this Valentine’s Day since people are confined to their homes. “This Valentine’s Day I made close to one hundred orders. People are celebrating at home,” she said. 
Just three years ago, shops in Saudi Arabia were banned from selling red roses and teddy bears for Valentine’s Day, because celebrating the “un-Islamic” holiday was illegal. However, this year shops were filled with red roses and heart-filled gifts. 
Karema Bokhary, an analyst and academic who was a candidate in Riyadh’s 2015 municipal council elections, told The Media Line that, for Saudi young people, celebrating Valentine’s Day is extremely important since “during the radical period – when they weren’t allowed to celebrate it, there were a lot of issues and incidents. Some people died in car accidents after being chased for celebrating.” 
Bokhary said that after the government allowed the observance of Valentine’s Day, Saudis became more comfortable celebrating love, not only between loved ones, but also with friends and families.  
“It created a new culture that's very lovely, and spreads love and peace, and we as humans must take advantage of any time or occasion to express love,” she said. 
Bokhary pointed out that, despite closures and restrictions due to the coronavirus, red flowers and Valentine gifts have filled shops and people have been buying significantly. “In all places you can see the color red, and it’s very nice,” she said.  
When celebrating Valentine’s Day was forbidden, it left a huge psychological impact on people, who were chased down if they were wearing red or showing any sign of celebrating the occasion, according to Bokhary.
“Banning the celebration of Valentine's Day wasn’t normal, which created fear and phobia among people, and that just wasn’t right,” she said. 
Lebanon celebrated Valentine's Day this year with a number of parties held in major hotels in the capital, Beirut, featuring top artists.
In a boon to businesses that profit from the holiday, Lebanese isolation measures excluded certain stores, including florists, who were able to open their virtual doors to the public, selling items that arrived at people’s homes with a delivery service. But the prices are not affordable for everyone. 
Nada Naseef, a Lebanese activist and resident of Chouf, located south east of Beirut, told The Media Line that Valentine’s Day arrived during a country-wide lockdown, under which gatherings were forbidden. “I'm not sure about holding parties,” she said. 
She said there were people ordering roses from florists to mark the day, observing that the flowers gave the occasion “presence.” 
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a “hysterical” cost of living and prices are high, according to Naseef. This is not only affecting Valentine’s Day, but all aspects of life in Lebanon. 
“I believe that people will celebrate this day in their houses,” Naseef said. She said she doubted that hotels and resorts that have been allowed to open would be holding Valentine’s Day parties and gatherings. 
In Egypt, leading artists performed in concerts at the Egyptian Opera House, as part of a series of Valentine's Day parties which began on Thursday - with the participation of 15 well-known Arab singers. The concerts will continue until Monday evening. 
In addition, an Egyptian singer and actor also performed a concert at the Zamalek Theater on Friday evening to celebrate Valentine's Day. 
The Egyptian Opera House refused to comment to The Media Line on the events.