In 1992, UAE leader and founder, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, launched the UAE Marriage Fund.
The fund was set up following the huge influx of expats to the Emirates, which has transformed the UAE into a global meeting point for over 150 nationalities. In light of this, the initiative aims to preserve the population, and at the same time, to promote local heritage.
Al Nahyan developed marriage grants and group wedding sponsorship for UAE nationals as part of his vision to help stop the indigenous population from fizzling out.
The Price of Homegrown Love
Massive growth and development in the country pushed the cost of UAE marriages through the roof. An a-z wedding with all the trimmings can set newlyweds and their families back hundreds of thousands of dirhams. The neighbourhood reception parties are being overshadowed as venue choices by more fashionable and less affordable hotels.
According to an insightful article by the Middle East Youth Initiative, UAE weddings cost around 300,000 dirhams (US$81,744). The dowry alone can easily exceed 100,000 dirhams (about US$27,240).
Guided by a government-selected committee, The UAE Marriage Fund lends a hand to struggling national couples wanting to wed by providing grants of 70,000 dirhams per couple (about US$19,000) and hands out around 3,000 grants a year.
The grant is paid in two instalments: the first 30,000 dirhams are provided at the announcement of marriage and the remainder is handed over once wedding preparations are underway.
By current standards of living, 70,000 dirhams may not seem a fortune but it does make a difference, especially for nationals from the poorer Northern Emirates (Um al-Quwayn, Ras al-Khaymah, Fujaira and Ajman).
There’s More to Marriage Than Just Money
The Marriage Fund also offers guidance, through lectures on married life and sexual relations for couples prior to marriage. It also hosts group weddings, some of which are sponsored by a single philanthropic ruler.
In July 2008, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, hosted a group wedding that enabled almost 300 national men to marry. As a safety valve, the Marriage Fund caps the dowry at 50,000 dirhams and strongly advises against extravagant hotel receptions.
What Do the Emiratis Make of the Marriage Fund?
The marriage fund is generally supported by UAE nationals, but it raises its fair share of questions. The rising divorce rates in the Emirates are largely blamed on family pressures, changing gender roles and financial disputes, but the Fund has also had the finger pointed in its direction.
This could be a result of the friction felt by some citizens that marriage is being treated as a national accomplishment rather than a personal achievement.
Whether you love or hate the Marriage Fund, it’s certainly an interesting initiative, and one that may well have a hand in shaping the future of the UAE.