Online matchmaking a hit with Saudi couples
In Saudi Arabia, traditional matchmakers face tough competition from blossoming marriage services on online social networks.
More than 200 Twitter sites and dozens of other forums on the Internet offer services for Saudi men and women seeking spouses, angering matchmakers like Um Sami.
"Social networks undermine our work and everything they offer is virtual: they use nicknames and they are not reliable," said Um Sami, an elderly woman and well-established matchmaker from Jeddah. For her, many of these websites are "fraudulent".
"Marriage via online platforms is one hundred percent doomed to failure," she said, stressing that only her traditional matchmaking method can lead to a successful marriage.
For matchmakers like Um Sami the business has flourished by word of mouth.
Families ready to marry off their offsprings contact her with details about their children and provide pictures which she carries around with her on rounds to match candidates.
In a union sealed with the help of Um Sami, the bride and groom each pay the matchmaker around 2,000 Saudi riyals.
Offers to help seal marriages are rife on the Internet. Some websites allow men and women to post their requests.
Candidates are also asked to give personal details, including their marital status, monthly salary, education and a brief description of who they are and what they look like.
A man wanting to marry has posted a request on one such site for a "tender, quiet, good humoured and plump" wife.
A woman from Riyadh with special needs said she was 23 "pretty, blind, fair-skinned. Willing to marry a normal, non-smoking man even if he is polygamous as long as his first wife is informed."
"There are so many offers which one finds tempting to try, but my friends have warned me against certain websites that can be traps," said 20-year-old Amjad Ismael.
Many online matchmaking services ask for a deposit upfront, he said.
Abu Mohammed, a 40-year-old who is already married and is looking for a second wife, said he has had a "bad experience" with online matchmakers.
"They are not serious. They try to take advantage of people contacting them, especially if they are married," he said. "I have now decided to go back to the traditional matchmaker to ensure confidentiality."
But younger people still prefer social networks as a tool to tie the knot "because they are an easy way to get to know each other," said sociologist Abu Bakr Baqdar.
"In the past, people got to know one another through families and neighbours," he said. Young people are now looking for "less traditional means to meet away from their families' interference."
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