‘Online marriages’ rising in war-stricken Syria
Damascus - More than five years of civil war in Syria has led to front lines and checkpoints splitting communities and dispersing families across the country and abroad, forcing many young Syrians to turn to the internet to find a soulmate.
In a conservative Muslim society such as Syria’s, most marriages are arranged between members of the same clan. With clan members often separated by the war, and internet access still available, the number of “online marriages” has grown across Syria.
Ibrahim al-Ali, an engineer from Raqqa, has been unable to return to his city, the de facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS) in north-eastern Syria, so fell back on his parents and Skype to meet a future wife.
“Since the beginning of (anti-regime) demonstrations in 2011, I did not go back home because of what I write on social media. I am seen there as a pro-regime thug and I am on ISIS’s wanted list,” said Ali.
Two years after graduating from university, Ali bought an apartment in a Damascus suburb with the idea of settling down to start a family.
“My father then told me about a young girl, the daughter of a relative, living in Raqqa, and suggested that he would propose to her on my behalf. I could hardly remember the girl since I was last there five years ago and I thought, ‘How could I marry someone I don’t know?’” Ali said.
Meeting over the internet was the only option for Ali so as not to marry a stranger. “I asked for permission to talk to my future bride on Skype, at least to know what she looked like before we got engaged,” he said. “One day she went to an internet café with my mother and we had our first conversation. A few days later we were engaged,” he said.
The couple have yet to get married, as the bride has not been able to make the journey to Damascus due to the battle in Palmyra, which the army recaptured from ISIS in March, and fighting in rural Hama, north of Damascus.
Adel Deraawi, from the southern province of Deraa, fled Syria three years ago after being imprisoned twice by Syrian security forces. He settled in Mersin, Turkey, and opened a small business.
He said he met his wife through Facebook in early 2015. “She was a friend and university colleague of my sister, living in Deraa,” Deraawi said. “Our friendship through social media soon developed into love and we got engaged in June. She then travelled to Turkey for the marriage and now we are expecting our first child.”
Sociologist Ziad Abou Zayed said the war in Syria, which forced the displacement of millions, has changed many social understandings and norms.
“The phenomenon of marriages through the internet has become widespread because of the protracted conflict,” he said. “Moreover, many Syrian families whose sons travelled to Europe are keen to have them marry Syrian girls because they fear that they and their children will not want to return to Syria if they marry foreigners.”
“In addition, harsh economic and financial conditions prompted many families to look for husbands for their daughters among Syrians living abroad, hoping that their sons-in-law would help them financially,” he added.
Communication expert Maher Khatib cautioned that “virtual romances” could be dangerous as girls seeking to meet future husbands on the internet run risks of being exploited and abused by hackers or mischievous users.
“The phenomenon of ‘online marriages’ is a temporary trend resulting from the ongoing war. It is a means of communication that suitors resort to in place of normal courtship,” Khatib said.
Nour Ahmad, a Syrian refugee living in Hanover, Germany, fled Syria in 2012 to rebuild her life in Europe. However, she was unable to mingle in German society, which had customs and traditions different from hers. “I wanted to meet a Syrian boy or at least an Arab,” Ahmad said.
“While following up on Syria’s developments on a Facebook page of the Syrian revolution I came across a media activist from rural Damascus. I liked him before even knowing his name. He was reluctant to open up in the beginning, fearing that I could be an agent for Syrian security, but, with time, he trusted me and I confessed to him about my feelings and even proposed to him,” she said.
Ahmad joined her future husband in Turkey where he was being treated for an injury. “We got engaged there and I have since filed for him to be reunited with me in Germany,” she said.
Ahmad considers herself very lucky as she wanted to marry for love.