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Amira, 23, who has dated in secret for years, has always been careful.
“Imagine if somebody sees me, my cousin or my brother, by chance? “So it’s always in places a bit closed-off, places like the seaside at night, or a park, places far from people close to us.” She asked Newsweek not to publish her last name, so that her family does not find out.
While the sun sets over the Indian ocean, young men call out honeyed words to female passers-by.“I got to know the charisma of her personality,” he says of his cousin, whom he did not know personally because she lives in the United Arab Emirates. Arranged matches were for a long time the norm, with minimal contact between a couple before their wedding. Oil wealth, globalisation and widespread higher education have transformed the country since Sultan Qaboos bin Said seized power from his father in 1970 and opened Oman to the world.“It’s a new generation,” says Rahma al-Mahrooqi, director of the humanities research centre at Sultan Qaboos University in Muscat.
“People are becoming more open-minded,” says Ammar Ali, 26, an Omani who met his wife Sarah (half-Omani, half-Scottish) through a mutual friend.
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I am not so educated, I am very serious about marriage and love.The couple married in December after eight years together. “They may be conservative in terms of religion and praying five times a day and fasting . But in other segments of Omani society, dating is still completely taboo.While the country lacks the religious police of Saudi Arabia, vigilant relatives can play a similar role.In another age, the engagement between Mubarak al-Balooshi and his cousin would have been arranged by their family, with little input on the decision from him or her.Instead, the 23-year-old Omani met his fiancée on Instagram, the photo-sharing application.“I was liking her photos, then it turned out she was from my family,” al-Balooshi says.