Valentine’s Day has captured the hearts of Middle Eastern youth, as well as the minds of shop and hotel owners looking to turn a profit. Heart-shaped balloons and roses line the streets of Cairo and Baghdad; Gulf hotels are awash with Valentine’s Day packages. In the past, Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Hotel has offered a million-dollar special that includes a week of helicopter rides, camel racing, and yachting. Last year, Demozy FM, an Iraqi radio station, devoted its Valentine’s Day broadcast to love songs and commentary about love.
But it is not coming up roses throughout the region. Some governments denounce the holiday for being “Western” and “un-Islamic.” Authorities in Saudi Arabia and Iran have banned the selling of roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and other Valentine’s Day gifts. Some accuse Saudi Arabia’s muttawa, or “religious police,” of purging shops of the color red. The Gaza Strip once benefitted mightily from Valentine’s Day, exporting cut flowers to markets in Western Europe. Now, Valentine’s Day is treated warily, and Hamas officials reportedly canceled Valentine’s Day parties and concerts last year.
In some Saudi shops, however, owners keep romantic gifts hidden in back rooms. Couples also circumvent regulations by ordering gifts over the phone. In the Middle East, as elsewhere, love conquers all.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.