Wife Goes On: Divorce Parties in Saudi Arabia
Divorce parties are the latest thing for Saudi women.
May 26, 2015The big day was just as she had dreamed. In her white dress, the Saudi woman danced with her friends, following the catered reception and presentation of gifts. But most telling about the jubilant scene was the cake: on top stood a figurine of a bride cradling her groom’s head—which had been severed from his body.
Divorce parties in Saudi Arabia have come to rival weddings in both scale and emotional content. The popular song “Etalagna” (We Got Divorced), which has become an unofficial anthem for these parties, captures much of the mood. With a price tag that can reach several thousand dollars, lavish divorce celebrations are held in luxury hotels, public parks, and ironically, wedding halls. One exultant mother even mailed mock wedding invitations, attaching the epithet “deposed” to the name of the erstwhile groom.
While the divorce rate in Saudi Arabia has crept up in recent years, ending a marriage remains much less prevalent there than in the United States or Europe. That hasn’t stopped authorities’ concerns that the phenomenon is getting out of hand. The Saudi Ministry of Justice has launched a “divorce index” to track the reasons for breakups and their social effects, and clerics admonish that people should take the institution more seriously.
Celebrating divorce in such ostentatious fashion displays a defiance not often expressed in the socially conservative kingdom. For women who have escaped from abusive husbands or forced marriages, these parties celebrate newfound freedom and the beginning of a new life. And perhaps for party planners, the prospect for repeat business.
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.