Iraq has a new (but scorned) matchmaker

Young Iraqis in Baghdad are surfing the internet to search for partners to tie the knot as violence and sectarian tensions take their toll on more traditional forms of socialising.

Dating has fallen victim to the insecurity that has reduced the capital to a sullen network of rival neighbourhoods, leaving little space for men and women to meet other than in internet chat rooms.

“I think the Iraqis are looking for love on the internet because there are no other places for them to meet,” says Mustafa Kazem (20), an engineering student who found his soulmate on a university chat forum.

“Once they have completed their university studies, girls tend to stay home,” rather than go out and look for a job, says Kazem.

Bank employee Omar Assir (29) is among those who turned to the internet for a lifetime partner.

“There were no girls working at the bank, and I did not want my mother to find me a wife,” he says. “I wanted to fall in love,” not be part of an arranged marriage, he adds.

In Iraq, like in most conservative Arab societies, couples are usually nudged into matrimony by their parents and often a matchmaker is consulted to help find the perfect spouse.

‘The only way’
Assir, a Christian, says he met his future wife, Evan Fadi (25), on the internet chat forum. “I was overjoyed when I found out that Evan was a Christian as well,” he said.

The couple met twice only before deciding to tie the knot.

“For security reasons we met only twice, and briefly, at the Tea Time café in Mansur [central Baghdad],” says Assir, adding that his parents were opposed to a marriage through the internet. “But I persuaded them that it was the only way to meet a girl,” he says.

According to a 2006 study by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi Health Ministry, 49,3% of Iraqi men and 47,5% of all women are either single or divorced.

Assir lives in Qadissiya on the western bank of the Tigris River while Fadi’s home is across the river in Zayune.

Although only 10km separate them, travelling from one area to another can be a nightmare as the city and its 89 neighbourhoods are littered with roadblocks that can take hours to negotiate.

“I had wanted to meet the man of my dreams, but how could I when I was always stuck at home?” says Fadi, an unemployed university graduate who holds a degree in languages.

According to Um Mohammed, a researcher at the Ministry of Education, “many young women are unemployed because their parents are afraid to allow them to leave home” for security reasons.

“Many men have also been victim of violence that has swept Iraq and others have simply left the country,” she says.

Tens and probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed since the 2003 United States-led invasion, according to independent estimates, while an estimated one million people were killed in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war that ended in 1988.

Fadi has not told her parents that she met Assir through the internet. Instead the couple have asked a friend to be the go-between and approach Fadi’s parents to introduce Assir.

“The internet has dethroned, in some circles, the traditional role of the matchmaker,” says Um Mohammed.

Ali Adnan (30), a technician, found his soulmate, Wadian, on the internet. “We chatted for hours [but] we waited eight months before seeing each other secretly,” he says.

Adnan, a Sunni Muslim, and Wadian, a Shi’ite Muslim, are both opposed to the religious tensions that have rocked their country since the invasion. Both have moved out of their neighbourhoods to avoid religious constraints.

Now the task is to convince Wadian’s parents that meeting on the internet was a good thing.

“I tried on three separate occasions to set up an appointment to see her parents but they turned me down. They think that the internet is not a good way to get to know each other but I will not give up,” Adnan says. — AFP

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