Divorce rates in the Arab world are increasing, here’s why

The evolving status and self-perception of women has a lot to do with it, experts say

File photo: Divorce. (photo credit: REUTERS)
File photo: Divorce.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

According to recent studies, divorce rates have skyrocketed in the Arab world in recent years.

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A study by the Egyptian Cabinet's Information and Decision Support Center found that Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar are the four countries in the Arab world with the highest divorce rate, which rose to 48% of all marriages in Kuwait, 40% in Egypt, 37.2% in Jordan and 37% in Qatar.

General overall view of the Doha downtown city center skyline and cityscape and the Doha Bay, Doha, Qatar, Sep 26, 2019. (credit: KIRBY LEE-USA TODAY SPORTS)General overall view of the Doha downtown city center skyline and cityscape and the Doha Bay, Doha, Qatar, Sep 26, 2019. (credit: KIRBY LEE-USA TODAY SPORTS)

Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates follow with 34%. Dr. Mona Youssri, a licensed psychologist and family therapist at the American Hospital in Dubai, told The Media Line that in her experience, the majority of people seeking out couples therapy are females who sometimes manage to convince their male partners tojoin afterward.

"Women are educated now and have their own careers."

Bassant Ossama

“Arab females have gained a lot of self-awareness and are thriving toward their self- actualization, so sometimes this clashes with the Arab image of the woman being a homemaker,” she said.

Mahmood Al Oraibi, an attorney licensed in Bahrain who is managing partner at Salman Legal Services in Bahrain and a former board member of the Bahrain bar society who deals with many family and divorce-related cases, said that many different aspects of the Arab community has changed and divorce is just one of those changes.“Women now are independent, they are educated, they have some power, they have some demands,” he told The Media Line.

He added that the Arab community is still struggling between the past – where women were just housewives, and they handled the needs of the entire family, taking care of their husbands as well as his parents, cousins and and their own children, to the present – where there is a working woman who is independent, who comes home late after spending 8 hours to 10 hours away from home.

“These things will definitely play a huge weight in the balance of the expectation between my modern wife, versus my old-style grandmother in the society,” he said. Bassant Ossama, an Egyptian sociology teacher living in Kuwait, believes that divorce has increased due to women having the freedom to speak their minds and make their own decisions, unlike in years past.

“Women are educated now and have their own careers, so when they decide to get a divorce, they will not have financial worries since they can now support themselves,” she told The Media Line.

Youssri explains that society is always in a dynamic state and is always changing, but she noted that she sees a positive move toward wanting to be educated about relationships and how to be happier. Thus, “there is a definite increase in demand for relationship courses and couples counseling,” she said.

Ossama noted that the increased divorce rate works the other way around, as well. She believes that the high divorce rates also have changed women.

Society has changed dramatically, she said. “Those high levels of divorce forced every woman to depend on herself in every possible way, which made our women grow stronger and made men learn to respect women because they know they are decision- makers and will not settle for any less than they want and deserve,” she explained Al Oraibi believes that those high divorce rates have implications in society as well.

High divorce rate impact on kids 

He says that divorce will play a huge factor in the development of society mainly through the children who are experiencing their parents’ divorces rather than the parents themselves.

“They will grow up differently than the kids that will grow up inside a marriage, whether we are talking about good marriage or bad marriage they would still have both parents living under the same roof,” he said, as he claimed that the new generation will have a weaker sense of family value.

Youssri says that, in order to counter the growing phenomenon, she would recommend premarital education about relationships and how to choose a partner, and also encourage early couples counseling in the first year of the relationship, which she believes will prevent a lot of miscommunication issues that build up with time. Al Oraibi also believes that the best way of managing the increase in divorces is through education.

The Arab community is very conservative, he said, adding that “we don't have out-of- marriage relations, it is not permissible socially, religiously and, in some cases, by the law. So, people who are newly married get into this relationship with zero experience and the community is very reluctant to sit and talk in a transparent way about all the pros and cons in marriage.”

He stressed that there is almost no education, about social aspects or liability or even the physical interaction. “People will grow and will try to learn their way out of it just like riding a bike for the first time,” he said.

Al Oraibi believes that the best way to lower the divorce rate is for the couple to try to interact with each other before marriage or to take time to get to know each other better after they get married and before having children.

According to the Sharia law, divorce is something that has been permitted since the time of the Prophet Mohammad; it is called khula.

However, Al Oraibi noted that in the Quran there is a clear and explicit verse that says that divorce is the thing that God does not like the most. “Although it is halal (permitted in the Islam), it is the halal that God does not like,” he explained.

As a lawyer in Bahrain, a country where divorce takes place through the Islamic courts for Muslims, Al Oraibi explained that it is a right for both men and women. Despite that, he noted that men can choose to divorce women without the need of a justification, while women need to provide proof for the reason for ending the marriage.He added that there are some rare cases where, in the premarital agreement, the man waives that right in favor of the woman; however, he stressed how uncommon that is. The Islamic laws concerning divorce can also differ between the Shia and the Sunni courts. For instance, said Al Oraibi, according to Sunni law, the man has the right todivorce without any witness; while in the Shia court, at least two witnesses are required.