RIYADH — With more than 257,000 unmarried women in the country, and strict religious codes, traditional matchmaking is a lucrative business in Saudi Arabia. Yet with the rise of social media and online marriage websites, the industry is coming under pressure to stay financially viable, which has led to several recent reports of scandals that have broken both hearts and the country's strict Islamic laws.
The recent allegations of matchmaking abuses led to an uproar that prompted the Saudi government to launch multi-ministry investigations and seek new regulations. The Saudi ministries of Justice, Interior and Social Affairs have highlighted particularly outrageous cases, in which matchmakers — sometimes operating with fake licenses — “tricked” their clients, Al-Arabiya reported.
For instance, a matchmaker "engaged" one of her female clients to two different men at the same time, receiving money from both. Another case reveals that a matchmaker bought several SIM cards to pose as a woman interested in marrying one of her clients. Others are under fire for posting photos of single women online, including very private information about their body type and height. Pictures of clients are never publicly displayed in Saudi Arabia — they remain in the hands of matchmakers.
Matchmakers play a crucial role in the Saudi society. The country's strict gender segregation makes it very difficult for potential mates to meet. Though the Internet has proved a boon for those looking to get married without familial interference, traditional matchmakers often provide more confidentiality.