Erin Kilbride | 2 Nov 2013
Four thousand Yemeni couples tied the knot on Thursday, in a mass wedding expected to make the Guinness Book of World Records. In addition to the 2000 grooms flooding into the marriage hall, Guinness representatives also attended the ceremony.
Yemen’s Orphans Development Foundation organized the event for four thousand brides and grooms, with financial sponsorship from Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Qatani. The Orphans Development Fund distributes marriages licenses, a stipend, and ceremony clothing to registered grooms.
One groom told Gulf News:
I registered at the foundation two years ago and they requested proof that I had not been married before or that I did not have a family … A month ago I was notified that the wedding was scheduled for October 31 and received YR150,000 (Dh2,564) as well as clothes from the foundation.
Thursday’s wedding was the fourth in a series of mass weddings organized by the Foundation, which has now married over 5,500 Yemeni couples.
Group weddings have gained popularity in Yemen over the past few years, with increasing numbers of citizens – many of whom are not orphans – unable to afford the costs associated with a traditional Yemeni wedding. “Since the uprising that started two years ago, even comfortable middle-class Yemenis are feeling the economic crunch,” explains Asma Al-Mohattwari of NationalYemen.com.
At a mass wedding in 2005, Governor Abdulwahab al-Dorah of the Thawar province explained that such weddings are “very important” for Yemen because they “make it easy for young men and women to get married.”
For many Yemenis, however, the costs of a wedding are an insurmountable barrier to this societal expectation. Cultural imperative is not lining up with economic reality.
For Yemen’s poor and working class, the task of marrying your children off is often too costly to manage. While customs and traditions encourage early marriages – nearly 40 percent of Yemeni women are married before age 18 – men in particular are putting marriage off until their 30s and 40s.
Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister for International Cooperation, Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed bin Jabor Al Thani, explained that the wedding “has several developmental dimensions, primarily psychological stability for this category of the society.”
In the view of the Qatari government, marriage and its impact on the “psychological stability” of a society warrant large financial assistance from concerned neighboring states. The monetary donation from Qatar reflects both national and regional expectations about marriage, and the growing impossibility of getting married for many Yemeni youths.
Nima Shirazi | 1 Nov 2013
It is no surprise that our media environment is saturated with reports of efforts by hawkish lobbying groups, former administration officials, Congress members, and even foreign governments to disrupt and undermine even the nascent possibility of genuine diplomatic progress through new sanctions and war resolutions. Routinely dehumanizing and negative language is also often used to describe anyone and anything connected to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Two reporters from two major media outlets are actively doing their best to break this trend.
I have written before about CNN correspondent Reza Sayah, whose recent reporting from Iran has given voice to the Iranian people themselves and introduced a Western audience to a dynamic and diverse nation that does not conform to the tropes and tautologies all too often presented by the media.
In his latest dispatch, Sayah speaks with Dan Gaspar, assistant coach for the World Cup-bound Iranian national soccer team. Gaspar, an American citizen of Portuguese descent, has lived and worked in Iran since 2011.
When he was offered the job and told his wife about his plans, Gaspar reveals, “She was shocked, she was concerned, as most of my friends and family members were.” To his credit, Gaspar remained undeterred.
“My personality is one of adventure and curiosity,” he tells Sayah. “I wanted to experience a culture in a part of the world that I’ve never been.”
As a result, Sayah reports, after some time spent in Iran and with Iranians, Gaspar “says what we often hear from visitors to Iran: ‘What you see on TV doesn’t exactly match reality.’” (Indeed, this is a common refrain; recall what professional photographer Amos Chapple said about Iran in a gorgeous photo essay earlier this year: “I was amazed by the difference in western perceptions of the country and what I saw on the ground.”)
“When you listen to the news and you read the news, sometimes during commercials I step away from my couch and I look out the balcony and it’s not what I’m seeing, it’s not what I’m reading and it’s not what I’m hearing,” Gaspar explains. He calls Iranians “generous and peace-loving people, who love their football team and their country.”
“Right now, more than ever, there seems to be a lot of hope and optimism and a sense of energy, that things will get better,” he says, and adds, “If I’d listened to the expert and listened to my friends and family, I probably never would have never been here in Iran. It’s been part of my life for the past three years and during those three years there’s been some wonderful experiences and memories that are going to last a lifetime.”
Watch Sayah’s report here:
His photos, which he has also been posting on Twitter, are reminiscent of those taken by “Humans of New York” photographer Brandon Stanton last winter during a two-week trip to Iran. Through Lila’s camera lens, in a series he has dubbed on Twitter as #FacesOfIran, we meet everyday Iranians – students, activists, widows, artists, children – who are almost invariably absent from reporting on Iran. We see knockoff fast food chains, get stuck in Tehran’s infamous traffic, and get short and touching glimpses of hope and love.
In a discussion with young engineering students, Lila asked, “Do you really think you’re free in Iran?” They replied, “Depends what you consider freedom. What you have in America isn’t freedom.” When Lila responded that “we can think, be, and do whatever we want,” they were quick to fire back: “So can we.”
Lila later noted, “Of the dozens of ordinary Iranians we’ve spoken to, none of them said they’re unhappy and want to leave the country.”
At the massive Friday prayer service in Tehran, Lila spoke with a cleric who made clear to him that Iranians have no ill will toward the American people. “It’s America’s war-mongering we want to stop,” he said.
Below are the photos he has taken so far. Follow him on Twitter for more to come.