Incentive for Saudi men to get married: give up smoking

Here is something interesting I read on the Associated Press-

Saudi Arabia’s new anti-smoking campaign is a contest where if you prove that you have quit smoking, all of the expenses of your wedding will be paid.

It is a known fact around the Middle East that getting married is arguably one of the most stressful aspects of a young man’s life, as the culture expects them to fund all of the wedding from costs to having a furnished home and support system for their partner. It has led to the average age of men getting married in countries like Jordan and Morocco from early twenties to early thirties or even later. So it is interesting to see that Saudi Arabia, the region’s most conservative country and one of the richest as well as populated, is now offering a new incentive for its single bachelors- quit smoking, and they will pay for your wedding.

Smoking has simply become part of the culture in the Middle East. I have stopped being surprised to see men light up right in the terminal as we get off the plane in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, or in Cairo, Egypt. One of the smells I associate with Cairo is the smell of cigarettes and sheisha, both overwhelmingly popular and cause of unfortunate addiction among Egyptians. So Saudi Arabia’s new proposal and its catch phrase, “kicking the habit is on you, and marriage is on us” is two folded- it is aimed at reducing smokers, and at getting the large number of their single men married.

In the Middle East, the younger generation’s population far outnumbers

An image known around Egypt: The anti-smoking message on every cigarette box.
An image known around Egypt: The anti-smoking message on every cigarette box.

those over the age of fifty and above, which in its own is linked to the unemployment issue as there is more supply of workers than demand. Many, if not most of the men I have met in Cairo as well as in Rabat are single, unemployed, and living off of the family wealth (and these conversations are usually joined with a cigarette, of course). The pressure to ‘succeed’ while facing a downturn economy has been connected to many types of aggravation. It has even been linked to the growing sexual harassment taking place in the streets, with frustration from boredom and employment leading to men trying to press their authority over women.

The new anti-smoking efforts in Saudi Arabia have also been met with criticism. For example, there is the sentiment that this effort reemphasizes the objectification of women in the country. Writers like Maha al-Hujailan complained that the campaign was sexist since it was using women like an object as an alternative for smoking, the recreation.

The new effort is essentially a contest- if you can prove that you have quit smoking, your name will be entered, and there will be a draw in August, with the winner having his wedding paid, and twenty runner ups getting free furniture. According to the Associated Press, hundreds have already called in to express interest. I am curious to see what happens, and also if they are going to monitor the winner after the wedding to see if he goes back to old habits. While I can see where the criticisms are coming from, it really is not as if Saudi Arabia is selling women or saying that a bride will come with the package. Rather, because this campaign is unlike many that have taken place, it has gotten people to talk and discuss the issue, and come to some kind of awareness.