The foreigners are all desperate to stay in Syria, meanwhile the Syrians are all desperate to leave. Apparently the governments increasing its surveillance of foreigners and a friend was deported for no apparent reason just before I last extended my iqama. We’re worried we might be sent home, Syrians are worried about what’s happening to their homes.
My flatmate, who’s easy to get on with and a good cook, has decided the easiest way to guarantee herself residency is to marry her Syrian boyfriend. It’s all very complicated, partly because ‘ (and Israel’s) personal status laws were last updated by the Ottomans, partly because neither partner is telling their parents. The first problem manifested itself when the man in the marriage office (next to the Iraqi Communist Party HQ) demanded proof of religion. As a westerner and an atheist my flatmate couldn’t produce a certificate of cultural Christianity, so they trotted off to a church to get her baptised. This wasn’t a problem, but it was explained that registering her officially would be extremely difficult; her parents had screwed it all up by not being Syrian Christians. Consequently she decided to convert to Islam, for which she only needed two copies of her birth certificate, in Arabic, and three passport photos. Converted and registered, armed with all sorts of papers, most of which had been sent from home and needed stamps from the Syrian embassy there and her embassy in Damascus, she and Lover Boy returned to do the deed. They learnt that Lover Boy can’t marry a foreigner without government permission, which takes 6 months to get. If they preferred they could bribe the judge, which only takes 3 days and is very reasonably priced. As her iqama expires for the last time in a fortnight they went for option B and filled in the paperwork, which they’ll sign after the referendum. Alawi, Sunna, Christian and Druze are united in apathy when it comes to the new constitution. The man in the office isn’t quite sure when it is, or if it’s a holiday.
I’m cynical about marriage and I want everyone else to see it as a convenient way of regularising joint property ownership as well, rather than enjoying it when I don’t. My vague sense of unease, then, is not because they’re undermining the sacrament, it’s probably partly because Lover Boy is Alawi. Converts aren’t asked what branch of Islam they plan on entering, and the Alawi are genuine, Khomini certified, Shia (he issued a fatwa in return for influence in Lebanon), so sect isn’t an issue yet. I’m pretty confident, though, that if she stays here being married to an Alawi will eventually turn round and bite her on the arse. They didn’t make much effort to ensure her immigration department will accept the marriage as genuine, apparently they take a dim view weddings without any parents in attendance. As some of my ALC colleagues discovered processing the paperwork for divorce takes allot longer than the Islamic ‘I divorce you,’ and that’s not as easy for women to do. The happy couple haven’t known each other for 6 months yet, and she was initially dating someone else, so they might have to explore divorce laws at a later date.
Another friend was propositioned by a rich Syrian looking for a passport for his son. As the sons studying in her homeland she seemed ideal wife material. With a starting offer of 8,000 UK, monthly expenses for 3 years and the cost of the divorce covered, the guy seemed like an ideal father in law as well. The only snag seems to be that she wants to stay in Syria and her future husband wants to stay out of it. He’s also 13 years younger than her, but while she gets a bonus when her husband gets nationality, she’s not really that interested in how plausible the relationship is. She doesn’t have to worry about convincing the Syrians it’s a genuine marriage, people aren’t that keen on earning the right to remain here (men married to Syrians can never get nationality, women have to live here continuously for 5 years, survive a background check and then get lucky if they want to become Syrian). Shes back home now, applying for a new visa, meeting and marrying her fiancée.
It’s all rather different from a Druze wedding Habibi and I were invited to in the summer. The bride and groom were sat on a dias, too far apart from each other to talk over the music and looking alternately bored and terrified. Old women went round the horse shoe seating dragging guests into the center of the room and making them dance dabki. I should have given Habibi a dabki lesson lasting more than 30 seconds. It’s a 3 beat stamping kind of morris dancing and in Syria is usually danced in a circle, but the people next to Habibi kept on moving away from him and he ended up at the end of a line. Eventually someone put the groom on their shoulders and danced, the groom waving a sword he’d been given in time to the music as he bobbed around above the other, now all male, dancers. Back on the floor but still armed he fetched his bride and danced with her. A cake adorned with fireworks was wheeled in to the low cellinged function room and they cut it with the sword. The bride was returned to her dias, the groom and his friends danced more celebratory dabki (one of the friends hates dabkai because its ‘traditional’ and danced very badly), then at ten everyone said goodbye to the new couple who went home together for the very first time.