In Saudi wed­dings, small is the new beau­ti­ful

Oman Daily Observer - - FRONT PAGE -

JED­DAH: It was a Saudi wed­ding like any other — clutch­ing a dec­o­ra­tive sword, the groom bobbed and swayed in a tra­di­tional dance. But there was one strik­ing dif­fer­ence — a tiny guest list.

Wed­dings in the king­dom are typ­i­cally lav­ish af­fairs, with a bulging guest list which is seen both as a so­cial obli­ga­tion and a sym­bol of af­flu­ence.

Such ex­pec­ta­tions are of­ten a source of eco­nomic strain for grooms, who foot most of the bill which in­cludes rent­ing out ex­or­bi­tant­lypriced mar­riage halls where nup­tial cel­e­bra­tions are usu­ally held.

But mil­len­ni­als like Basil Al­bani are in­creas­ingly host­ing wed­dings at home, de­fy­ing fam­ily tra­di­tions and so­cial pres­sure and mak­ing huge sav­ings in­stead.

Fewer than two dozen close rel­a­tives and friends were in­vited to the 26-year-old in­sur­ance ex­ec­u­tive’s re­cent wed­ding feast com­pris­ing kabsa — a tra­di­tional rice and meat dish — at his an­ces­tral home in western Jed­dah city.

“Peo­ple go all crazy with wed­dings, invit­ing hun­dreds of guests and spend­ing mil­lions in one night to get the best singers, best bands, best thobes,” said Maan Al­bani, the 21-year-old brother of the groom, dressed in a gold-trimmed cloak. BIG­GEST MAR­KET Al­though preva­lent for years, home wed­dings sym­bol­ise a war on ex­cess by the coun­try’s youth as much as they are a barom­e­ter of the lag­ging econ­omy. They ap­pear to be gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity in a new age of aus­ter­ity amid low crude prices.

Saudi Ara­bia has one of the world’s high­est con­cen­tra­tions of su­per rich house­holds.

But with cuts to cra­dle-to-grave sub­si­dies and a new value-added tax amid soar­ing youth un­em­ploy­ment, Saudi house­holds are see­ing stag­nat­ing dis­pos­able in­comes and what ex­perts call a life­style down­grade.

An­nual spend­ing on mar­riages in the king­dom ex­ceeds two bil­lion Saudi riyals ($533 mil­lion), the high­est in the Arab world, or­gan­is­ers of the Saudi in­ter­na­tional wed­ding fair said last year.

Sta­tis­tics on fru­gal home mar­riages are hard to come by, but two wed­ding plan­ners with a large Saudi clien­tele said that av­er­age spend­ing on mar­riages had dropped by 25 per cent over the past year, with many trim­ming back the pomp and pageantry.

A re­tailer of wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion cards in Riyadh said busi­ness fell by 70 per cent over the pe­riod, as many cus­tomers de­mand rich de­signs at cheaper prices.


Peo­ple en­joy rides over the frozen Hou Hai lake in Bei­jing, China, on Sun­day.


Saudi groom Basil Al­bani poses for a selfie with his friends dur­ing his wed­ding at his home in Jed­dah.

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