Saudi Arabia: Judiciary Council overturns forced-divorce decision

Arab News

Over four years after a judge in Jouf annulled the marriage of Fatima and Mansour at the behest of Fatima’s half brothers, the Supreme Judiciary Council in Riyadh on Saturday overruled the decision and ordered that the couple be reunited in matrimony. “The divorce ruling is void, therefore the return of the couple together is inevitable now and does not require (another) marriage ceremony,” Ahmad Al-Sudairi, who has been providing the couple pro bono representation, told Arab News. Fatima was pregnant with the couple’s second child when on June 20, 2005 a judge ruled in favor of Fatima’s half brothers and divorced her from Mansour Al-Timani in absentia.

It took the couple seven months to discover that they had been divorced against their will and without their knowledge. The half brothers claimed that Mansour deceived Fatima’s father in 2002 regarding his tribal affiliation, and that Mansour’s real tribal background made the marriage incompatible.

The father passed away in 2004, so he was unavailable for testimony when the case was put before the court in Jouf a year later.

The couple had moved to Qassim and later to Jouf to escape harassment from Fatima’s family. In an interview with Arab News in November 2006, Fatima said her relationship with her family members in Qassim (including her half brothers) never went beyond the formal, and that their relationship with Fatima’s parents in Dammam was not close, either.

Still, Fatima’s relatives — especially her half brothers — took umbrage at Mansour’s tribal roots, and took their issue to the courts. Fatima, who is in her mid-30s, was put in a women’s prison with her two children in Dammam in July 2006. “I’m leaving this place on one condition only: That I go back to my husband,” Fatima told Arab News from her jail cell in the November 2006 interview.

The case took just over four years and seven months to work its way through the system. In the meantime, Fatima has been a prisoner with a tough choice: stay in jail or go back to the people who intervened in her marriage against her will.

The case drew international attention and sparked a debate in Saudi society regarding the role of tribal affiliation in determining marital compatibility as well as whether male blood relatives should have the right to intervene in a marriage that has already taken place. Islam makes no case for tribal background as a prerequisite for marriage. 

Walaa Hawari | Arab News