Vivian is an award-winning journalist based in Saudi Arabia. She has written for Bloomberg News, Agence France-Presse, Newsweek Europe, Al Jazeera English, Foreign Policy online, The Boston Globe, The National (Abu Dhabi) and other publications. Some of her work is excerpted below.
For the Omani Instagram generation, dating takes off
January 30, 2015
Muscat, Oman — In another age, the engagement between Mubarak al-Balooshi and his cousin would have been arranged by their family, with little input on the decision from him or her. Instead, the 23-year-old Omani met his fiancée on Instagram, the photo-sharing application.
“I was liking her photos, then it turned out she was from my family,” al-Balooshi says. As he tells his story, he is sitting with friends on a seaside road in Muscat nicknamed Sharia Al Hub – Arabic for Love Street. The café-lined promenade is a popular place for dates, increasingly common in Oman as the Persian Gulf sultanate adjusts to four decades of oil-fueled development. While the sun sets over the Indian ocean, young men call out honeyed words to female passers-by.
But in this traditional Islamic society, where mixing between genders is limited, social media offered one of the only discreet ways for al-Balooshi to woo a girl.
“I got to know the charisma of her personality,” he says of his cousin, whom he did not know personally because she lives in the United Arab Emirates. Two months ago, he proposed. Their families welcomed their plans.
Marrying for love was rare just 20 years ago in Oman, a peaceful nation of four million that borders Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Arranged matches were for a long time the norm, with minimal contact between a couple before their wedding. But customs are evolving rapidly. Oil wealth, globalisation and widespread higher education have transformed the country since Sultan Qaboos bin Said seized power from his father in 1970 and opened Oman to the world.
“It’s a new generation,” says Rahma al-Mahrooqi, director of the humanities research centre at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.