Nationality for children of Saudi mothers


For many years, the Shoura Council has been debating the right of Saudi women to pass on their nationality to their children from non-Saudi fathers. Those supporting this right ask why Saudi women are any different from Saudi men. Children of a Saudi father married to a foreign wife have his nationality. However, children of a Saudi mother only have their foreign father’s nationality. In the name of gender equality, they should have their mother’s nationality, goes the argument.

Opponents maintain that a man’s children have his name and bloodline. This goes also for the non-Saudi father.

However, I believe that it is also a kind of punishment for the woman who dares to marry a foreigner, as well as for her family who allowed this to happen under their watch!

“My wife is Saudi and I’m a white/Caucasian American,” wrote a non-Saudi father. “It wasn’t easy for us to get married, but with a lot of help from her father it became a reality. The main issue now is the children’s status within Saudi Arabia. My wife finds it shameful that she has to renew their residence permits or visas on the same website as her driver and nanny. Also, she’s been told about a point system in which the kids could elect to become citizens at the age of 18 provided that they have built up enough ‘points’ over that time period, and only if they’re willing to give up their US passports - the only nationality they’ve known for the 18 years leading up to that point,” he explains.

“Ultimately, I believe this system, in which a Saudi man can pass his citizenship to his children but a Saudi woman cannot, is deeply based on some of the old traditions that you mentioned in your article, that imposed hardships on children.”

Mixed marriage is a thorny issue in Gulf countries - especially for women. It becomes more so if the suitor/husband comes from a different culture, as an Arab-Canadian Muslim from a Christian Lebanese family found out, the hardest way.

He wrote: “While living in Cairo, I met a young Saudi woman online, via a Muslim matrimonial website. We kept the exchange very professional and discussed details of our lives and goals. I asked if she would be interested in marriage and she agreed but warned me that her father might not. So I decided the right course of action would be to contact her father, the sooner the better, and ask for her hand. I wrote him but his answer was an unequivocal no.

“We both decided that we were a compatible match and continued to email one another and I kept trying to gain her father’s approval. Eventually, I ended up writing a long and detailed email and all I asked was to meet him so that he could know me before making any final conclusions or decisions that would affect his daughter’s life. His response was brief and to the point, neither his culture nor laws permitted the marriage of a Saudi to a non-Saudi.

“Shortly afterwards, his daughter, heart in hand, asked him why he could not at least get to know me or give us a chance. He told her that people should marry from their own countries and that surely I should be able to find a wife from Canada!

“The irony is that his wife’s lineage is not even Arab, but from Indonesians who migrated to Saudi Arabia. So the discrimination that exists with regard to non-Saudis is an arbitrary one that isn’t even based in racism or tribalism which the Prophet (peace be upon him) clearly condemned, rather it is one of nationalism that has no roots in logic or reason. Eventually, her father gave her an ultimatum, us or him. He told her: ‘You can have your passport and go marry him, but you’ll break our hearts.’ It was at this point that I no longer wished to be a burden on her or her family, so I broke it off and cut off our communication.

“Even my own non-Muslim parents accepted the idea of the marriage, and my mother spoke with her via Skype, ready to accept her into our family. But they too agreed that family comes first and a marriage that causes such frictions, even if they are wrong, should not be made.

“This all happened a couple of years ago, but I still feel its impact even today. I am content with what Allah has written for us, but this does not mean that I still do not feel pain and loss at what never was!”

What a heartbreaking story! Anyone listening? Your feedback is requested!

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @kbatarfi