Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children Part V—Marrying Across MENA

By Chiara



Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh

The following article مصاهرات الحكام العرب وسيلة لحفظ البقاء describes the political marriages of Saudi Royals with non-Saudi Royals, and with the political elite, across MENA. It reflects some of the Royal Saudi/non-Saudi marriages already posted and summarized in Royal Saudi/non-Saudi Marriages and Their Children: Reflections; which also links to the Introduction, Part I King Fahd, Part II Prince Bandar, Part III Prince AlWaleed, and Part IV Prince Khalid. It also anticipates some posts already in progress.

Readers of the past posts will recall that the purpose of these Royal posts is to show the diversity within the Royal Family, and to draw analogies to the diversity within marriages of non-Royal Saudis. The stated purpose of the author, جمانة فرحات, Joumana Farhat, of مصاهرات الحكام العرب وسيلة لحفظ البقاء “Intermarriage among Arab rulers as a means of survival” is to show the benefits and challenges of the contemporary version of the traditional political marriages of Saudi history, where marital alliances among tribes were created to preserve the peace between them, or to advance both—as we have seen with the original Al Saud/Al Wahhab alliance in the Introduction to the Royal posts; and, to cement the peace after wars, as we have seen in the history of the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud in the same post.

Current alliances link Saudi Royals to MENA countries from Morocco to the GCC. What follows is the original article translated, with equivalent pictures to the originals, and some other relevant ones added.

Intermarriage among Arab rulers as a means of survival

Joumana Farhat

Mohammed Bin Rashid and his wife, Haya

Political marriages join the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, intertwine thrones, and mingle the genealogies of rulers in Arab countries, following the mentality of the political marriage, which is on the increase. Though the current generation does not feel the impact, future generations will see the risks of ambitions to take over oil reserves.

The story of Nasser and Sheikha is the story of two young people who share a love of horse riding, meet, and then get married. It's a story repeated everyday, except that the everyday couple are not usually Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, son of the King of Bahrain, and Sheikha Sheikha Bint Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, daughter of the Ruler of Dubai.Marriage joins together a long list of aristocrats, such that the ruling families in the Arab world in general, and in the Gulf in particular, are now combined.

The UAE leads the list of Arab countries which have intermarriage between members of its ruling family and those of the surrounding countries. In addition to the rulers of Bahrain, the UAE aristocratic network extends to include those from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar. In 2004, Jordan announced the wedding, of Princess Haya Al-Hussein, the half-sister of King Abdullah II, with the Ruler of Dubai, the Vice President of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. As is common, a love of horse riding brought them together. As well, previously Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali Al Thani, Qatar's former governor, had married Reem bint Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the sister of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid. Also, the Saudi Prince, Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, nicknamed Alsamir, married the daughter of the late UAE president, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.


As for Jordan, in addition to Princess Haya, another highlight is the marriage of a cousin of Jordan's King to a cousin of Sultan Qaboos. Also, it was reported that an attempt was made by King Abdullah II to marry the daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Aisha.

In Saudi Arabia, there have been multiple intermarriages with the rulers of Arab countries, including the UAE, Lebanon, and Syria. The Saudi King, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, has been the brother-in-law of Rafaat al-Assad, and the uncle of the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, since the eighties, as one of King Abdullah's wives is Rafaat al-Assad’s sister. Also, Prince Talal Bin Abdul Aziz married Princess Mona Riad El-Solh, daughter of President Riad Solh, the first Prime Minister of Lebanon after independence. Marriage and family peace networks extend to Morocco: the late Amir Abdullah (uncle of the current King Mohammed VI) and Princess Lamia Solh married in 1961, after meeting in Paris where they were both studying.

Intermarriage is not only between States, but it is distributed within a single country in a strategic manner, and aims to strengthen each other’s rule; as happened in the marriage of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, with the daughter of Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum--believed to be the culmination of the reconciliation between the two families, after the emergence of political differences between them.

From the above, it is clear that the Arab rulers now form a network of intermarriages and are interrelated with each other. For example, the son of the King of Bahrain will not only be the new son-in-law of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, but will be a brother-in-law to the King of Jordan, and a relative of both Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Sharqi, the Crown Prince of Fujairah, who each married a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. Also, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud became, in turn, a relative of the King of Jordan and of the King of Bahrain.


As for the causes of intermarriage among the ruling families, some people believe they contribute to strengthening relations between these countries.This is not something new, especially in the political history of the Arabs; and, the world is full of political marriages that have a role as a social means to achieve political goals. In the opinion of the authors of «Political Marriages in the Mameluke Era», a professor of Islamic history, Fadel Jaber Al-Doha, and University Lecturer Thamer Numan, surmise that the motives behind the marriages of the ruling classes or between the sons and daughters of neighboring countries «is in the political interest, such as trying to limit the privileges of power between them, or an attempt to seize power or gain the trust of some neighboring countries, leading in the end to a secure border ».

GE Peterson, for his part, explains, in a study entitled «Rulers, Traders and the Senate in Gulf Policy: The Function of Family Networks», that this is an essential means by which rulers in the Gulf protect themselves. Family networks configure and start a hierarchy or a chain of command in government and society that is completely loyal to them. The advantages of family networks also include the building of alliances through marriage between royal families to be exploited when necessary.

A prominent example provided by Peterson, is Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali bin Jabor Al Thani, of Qatar, who ruled from 1960 until 1972. Peterson points out that Sheikh Ahmad, after his overthrow in 1972, found a safe haven in Dubai and took up residence there because of his marriage to one of the daughters of Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum; and, later, also married one of his daughters to one of the sons of the ruling family in the UAE.

Thus, while, on the face of it, equestrian hobbies and heir marriages unite ruling families in the Arab world, underneath, they represent interests and political ambitions. It is feared that in the long run, these family networks will lead to the emergence of power struggles.


The marriage of the sister of King Farouk of Egypt, Fawzia, to Mohamed Reza Pahlavi, who was then Crown Prince of Iran before becoming its Shah, failed to provide political protection. It is rumored that Shah Reza Mirza Khan planned to marry his son, Mohammad Reza to the family of Muhammad Ali in Egypt as a way to expand the foreign political relations of Iran. However, the collapse of the marriage after a period of separation still reverberates even today, in Egyptian-Iranian estrangement, even though there are different rulers and types of rule in each country after the collapse of dynasties in both countries.


Much as these Royal Saudi/MENA marriages may be described as part of the marriage patterns of the progeny of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, one is reminded of the marrying patterns of European Royalty, particularly the progeny of Queen Victoria, who together formed much of the Royalty of Europe from Russia, to Greece, Denmark, Sweden, Norway Germany, Spain, and the UK.

While such marriages didn’t preclude love relationships, as Queen Victory herself had with the German Prince Albert whom she married, these familial alliances were both severed and strengthened through WWI and WWII, as England and Germany lined up against each other, and the Tsar in WWI, and the Greeks in WWII sought refuge in Western Europe. Of course the family of Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra did not make it, but the families of Prince Philip, the future husband of Queen Elizabeth II, and Queen Sofia of Spain did.


Do you see these Royal Saudi/MENA marriages as politically advantageous, neutral, or creating intra-familial political rivalries as the author of the article suggests?

What happens, in your experience with non-Royal mixed marriages and sibling rivalries?

Are there jealousies created because of opportunities for travel, language and culture acquisition, study and career advancement of different siblings as they choose their marriage partners and on behalf of their respective children?

Given the structure of Arab families—large, close, and extended—do Westerners suddenly find themselves caught in vast sibling rivalries with numerous brothers, sisters, cousins (1st and 2nd degree)?

How prepared are they to handle such complexities?

What supports are to be had in these family constellations; and for Westerners in learning how to be a part of them—giving and receiving support?

Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?

4 comments:

Chiara said...

Qusay said...
Excellent post, better than the original (it has pictures :) and nice pictures) Good job.
November 20, 2009 8:57 AM

Chiara said...

Qusay--shokran! I was particularly happy to find the picture of the Mamluk Mihrab in the Al-Azhar Mosque, and I have been looking for an excuse to use that photo of Fawzia with the tiara for long time. She seems to me so stunningly beautiful in that photo.

I was very struck after reading the article by the similarity with the Royal families of Europe, particularly in the 1st half of the 20th century but continuing to today. The central question of the article, whether these alliances will ultimately be an advantage or lead to discord, is one that resonates with European history of that same era, as well as the example the author gives of the permanent strain in the relationship of Egypt and Iran.

In terms of non-Royal households, certainly the adaptation of a Westerner to a much larger and more closely knit family structure has been identified in cross-cultural research as one of the particular strains on a mixed marriage. One of the recommended solutions, for the Westerner living in the husband's home MENA country to find work, and a group of friends/ supports outside the family, is less available as an option in Saudi it seems than in some other countries. Even charity work, that other standby is not as readily available it seems. Hobbies, including blogging, or working from home by computer seem to be other options.

Still, the extended family can be a source of support, and perhaps Westerners more accustomed to looser relations and with fewer family members, need to learn how to conduct themselves so as to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives for themselves, and thus their spouse, children, and inlaws.

Since I have 1 sister, and 4 SILS, plus a number of female CILs (cousins-in-law) both biologically and conjugally related, I have found it useful to think of them as a synchronized (and not so synchronized) swim team; and the male equivalents as a waterpolo team practising in the other end of the pool. So far no one has drowned nor been drowned--ah but the speed swimmers and the divers haven't been accounted for yet. LOL :)
November 21, 2009 12:31 AM

Chiara said...

I agree that the marriages described can strengthen political ties. They also show the potential for greater collaboration across the GCC and MENA.
November 23, 2009 7:31 PM

Chiara said...

Poker Face said...
really, it's a nice post .
November 25, 2009 4:02 AM

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