Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Is wealth, stemming from oil, a key reason for a high divorce rate in the UAE? Anybody looking for the easy co-relation will point to the fact that nearly half a century ago, the country enjoyed one of the most stable societies in terms of family cohesion. Now, it has one of the most unsettled household systems in the region.
The fact is oil wealth is one of a number of socio-economic factors that has led to the UAE having one of the highest divorce rates in the Middle East.
The UAE government has taken numerous initiatives to check the divorce rate among nationals, including financial incentives for couples and their children, lectures about the negative effects, awareness campaigns, and creation of social centres to try and settle family disputes.
But such efforts have had limited impact, as divorce cases have steadily increased over the past 10 years and a large number of them involved local couples or UAE national husbands or wives.
Oil has fetched the country immense wealth, which in turn brought about momentous social changes and precipitated household instability. From less than 100 per year in the early 1960s, divorce cases in the UAE have steadily increased to approach 3,000 in 2008, a daily average of about eight. Between 1994 and 2008, such cases totalled about 35,000, one of the highest divorce rates in the world relative to the adult population.
A large number of the divorce cases involved UAE national couples, the target of an ongoing government drive to ensure family stability in a bid to increase the number of citizens and turn them into a majority in the long term. The high number refutes arguments that mixed marriages are the main reason for divorce in the UAE and other Gulf countries.
In 2007, divorce cases involving UAE national couples totalled about 1,190, nearly 42 per cent of the total divorces, according to the Ministry of Economy. Divorces involving UAE national husbands and expatriate wives stood at 420 while those involving UAE national wives and foreign husbands totalled ne-arly 110.
Abu Dhabi had the highest divorce rate in the country in 2007, totalling 920, including 412 involving UAE national couples. Dubai had 594 divorces, including 248 local couples. There were 541 divorces in Sharjah, 361 in Ajman, 193 in Ras Al Khaimah, 125 in Fujairah, and 49 in Umm Al Quwain.
There was no breakdown for 2008 but the total number of divorce cases was estimated at 3,000, the highest level in nearly 20 years.
"The statistics are alarming," Marwa Kraidieh, a social researcher at the Juma Al Majid Centre, said at a recent social seminar.
"As part of my work and my communication with other people, I found out that there are a number of reasons why couples decide to divorce and they seldom talk about the real reasons to others – the way they were raised during childhood, when they were prevented from expressing themselves freely and clearly – is considered one of the reasons for the increasing divorce rate.
"Some couples prefer to keep quiet rather than come out into the open. Some men intending to divorce their wives say their spouses are reckless and disobedient and prefer not to cite the real reasons, such as being bored with their wives or that they are having affairs. The majority of women intending to get a divorce usually claim that their husbands are misers or are reckless."
Another paper presented at the seminar said: "Socio-economic changes have created a metamorphosis in the landscape of our society, and it has happened so rapidly that some do not grasp the implications or its impact on their lives. Amongst the changes has been the rapid rise of female education. And an educated woman is no longer solely dependent on her husband, she has access to work opportunities, and most importantly, she has a strong mind, which allows her to rationally decide as to what type of life she wants to live."
High divorce rates in the UAE could be among the reasons for a decline in the country's fertility rate over the past 15 years. Figures by the Ministry of Economy showed the fertility rate dropped from 3.4 per cent in 1995 to 2.07 per cent in 2005 and 1.96 per cent in 2006. The rate rose to nearly two per cent in 2007 and remained almost unchanged last year. The decline in the fertility rate was more underscored among UAE nationals, slumping from 5.37 per cent in 1995 to 3.61 per cent in 2005 and 3.53 per cent in 2006. It edged up to 3.57 per cent in 2007 and 2008.
Never dive straight into business at a meeting. Instead, enjoy some small talk over a cup of coffee – after a maximum of three cups gently rock the cup from side to side to indicate you have had enough and are ready to move on to business. Never lose your temper.
Clients are a mix of big contractors delivering government-funded projects and private developers. Consultants can work directly for government departments. Building up long-term relationships is important in Saudi Arabia. Lump-sum contracts are common and there is a dedicated form of contract for government projects.
When tendering for work, expect to provide 10% of the value as a bond. This will be returned whether you win or lose the contract. Successful bidders may be asked for a 5% performance bond which is returned at the end of the project. Negotiate your way out of paying this if possible.
According to Phil Dalglish, Buro Happold’s boss in the country, the Saudis are no better or worse than anywhere else when it comes to payment. He is concerned that newcomers risk getting burned. “With all the new consultants coming out here, I do worry that there will be a high level of abuse as they will pick the wrong clients who won’t pay them and lose their shirt,” he says.
Disputes are best avoided – although Saudi law recognises contracts, the problem is you may be faced with a five-year wait before it gets to court.
What it's like to live there
The question “What’s it like?” will be at the front of people’s minds when contemplating a move to Saudi Arabia. Well, for one thing, salaries are usually 10% to 30% higher than the UK. However, there is no doubt that life is much more restricted: alcohol is banned, women can’t drive and must wear the abaya – a long black cloak – and cover their heads in public. There are only 100,000 western expats in Saudi Arabia, so it’s a close-knit community. “You need to be the right sort of person to live here,” says Matthew Jordan, an assistant surveyor with property adviser DTZ. “It helps if you are sociable. I spend more time socialising with people through sport rather than meeting people in bars.”
The main problem is that there isn’t much to do. There are no cinemas, bars or theatres, but there is satellite television and the internet. Because of this, most westerners choose to live on compounds that are specifically for expats. Here they can mix with other westerners and women can socialise normally – outside the compounds women are forbidden from mingling with people who aren’t relatives.
Compounds are heavily defended against terrorist attack, and with good reason – in May 2003, 30 people were killed in Al-Qaeda bomb attacks on Western compounds. Expect bomb sweeps on entry and men with machine guns to be posted on the edge of barbed wire topped perimeter walls.
Inside, some of the better compounds resemble holiday camps – Bougainvillea-draped villas, large swimming pools, shops, restaurants, bowling alleys, tennis courts and even golf courses. On the other hand, some are grotty, and the long waiting lists means you may end up in one of the less impressive ones. The shortage of places also means they are expensive – on the best compounds, a three to four-bedroom villa costs £50,000 a year and a two-bedroom one £35,000. However, companies normally pay for accommodation and transport.
Compounds are usually located outside the city centres, but traffic is much lighter than Dubai, so commuting times are short. Unfortunately, the standard of driving is so bad that many women don’t mind not being able to drive. “If my wife was told she was able to drive tomorrow, she would be horrified,” says the British embassy’s Paul Williams.
There is some party life in Saudi Arabia. Embassies regularly host parties and serve alcohol, owing to their diplomatic immunity. “I’m at an embassy do seven weekends out of 10,” says Andy Isherwood, an associate with Rider Levett Bucknall. “In terms of a social life, it’s not as liquid as other places, but it’s still good.”
Home-brewed alcohol can be bought in illegal bars on some compounds, although there are harsh penalties for those who get caught. Instead, as Bahrain is only an hour’s flight away, Isherwood often goes there with friends for weekends.
Despite the restrictions, many speak positively about life in Saudi Arabia. Jordan is 25 and came over from fast-living Dubai. “If you talk to people in the UAE they will say Saudi is rubbish, as they haven’t experienced it,” he says. “I was surprised when I came here. I had prepared myself for the worst, but it was much better than I thought.”
Soccer legend Diego Maradona is to open the world’s first “Maradona Sports Cafe” in Dubai within the next year, Arabian Business can reveal.
The café – modelled on the Planet Hollywood concept – will feature memorabilia from the Argentinean footballer’s career, and also include items from other soccer stars such as Brazilian heroes Pele, Zico and Dunga.
It will be developed by UAE property tycoon Sulaiman Al Fahim, architect of last year’s Manchester City takeover.
Soccer legend Diego Marodona is to open a special “Camp Maradona” in Qatar for under privileged children, Arabian Business can reveal.
It is understood the camp – which will offer training facilities for youths between eight and 16 years old – is to be built within the existing Aspire Academy.
Maradona’s cousin Remigio Martin Maradona told Arabian Business: “What Aspire has done is incredible to see, I was in Qatar last week."