Love is a beautiful thing, but not everyone thinks so–at least when it comes to Valentines Day. Here in the United States Valentines Day is just another commercial excuse to give and get (and to make single people feel lonely and down), but in the Middle East Valentines Day has much more controversy surrounding it. Yes, Valentines Day is yet another one of the West’s cultural exports, and predictably it is met with resistance in the land where love means marriage, husband and wife.
Romance is a tricky subject in the Middle East. Unless one lives in a rural area or comes from a super strict family, chances are that most young Muslims have dated before. Of course dating comes in all shapes and sizes in the Middle East: sometimes a couple only hangs out at school. Sometimes they only have a phone or Internet relationship. Public displays of affection are taboo; perhaps a quick hug is alright but kissing is verboten. Hanging out at each other’s family houses? Rarely possible unless one’s entire family is out of the house or, preferably, out of town. Sex is not allowed until after marriage. In an environment like this, therefore, it’s not surprising that a holiday about love is greeted by conservatives and hardcore-Islamists with disdain.
In Lebanon, with its large majority Christian population, couples on Valentines Day give red roses which, the daily star Lebanon reports, can cost 5000 lira because the growing season for roses in Lebanon ends just shortly before the holiday. Morocco is on the fence regarding whether or not o embrace la fete de l’amour, even though storekeepers (especially European brands) have jumped on the bandwagon there. In Pakistan, however, religious groups firmly insist on no celebrations. However, not all countries are hating on the red and pink: a look at the good and bad.
Love Day in Egypt
Showing one’s affection is so popular in Egypt the people celebrate it twice: once on valentines day in February and once on November 4th on “Love Day,” an Egyptian holiday dating from the 1950s that was started by Mustafa and Ali Amin, founders of publishing house Akhbar Al-Youm who were no doubt influenced by Egypt’s ties with Europe. Egyptian culture is pretty lovey-dovey when it comes to romance: they’ve got year-round stores which I can only deem “Valentine gift stores,” usually hole-in-the-wall shops with cheesy names decked out in red hearts that sell cheap jewelry, cards, stuffed animals (very popular) and other gift ideas. And don’t forget Egyptian music, which is mostly devoted to love song that would make even the most bitter person melt. In 2010 Egyptians spent almost 10 million dollars on the 4 November celebration, a sure sign that the holiday isn’t going anywhere.
Valentines Day in Iran
Iranians have taken quite a shine to this Western holiday, despite the Governments attempts to curtail such “immodest declarations.” Indeed, in 2011 it looked like Valentines Day might be added to the “forbidden” list of things Iraqis can’t do or celebrate when te government banned the production and sale of Valentines Day gifts. Either the Morality Police have been lax on up keeping this ban or the policy was revoked, because in 2012 couples celebrated like normal. Usually celebrated among the upper classes (according to AFP ‘nationalistic’ Iranians celebrate Mehregen, an ancient Persian holiday based in te goddess of love) I cannot imagine celebrating such a holiday in Iran. Rather than go out to dinner dressed in a slinky dress or cute outfit, Iranian women have to be completed covered up (my you’re looking sexy in your chador tonight!) and couples are of course subject to he whims of the morality police. But the holiday is an apparent relief for people who don’t get to do much non-religious celebrating and so flowers and chocolates remain popular.
Love and hate in Saudi Arabia
It should come as no surprise that the Saudi government, like Iran’s, is hell-bent against The notion of Valentines Day while, again, the people are for it. Every year the government tries to squash the holiday; in 2008 the BBC reported that the ban on V-Day gifts (including anything red) was forcing black-market prices on flowers to rise. The enforcement continued into 2010 with red completely banned and suggestion that the non-Muslim Filipino population (all workers) refrain from saying ‘happy valentines day’ to each other.
Indeed, there’s mixed feelings toward V-Day in the Gulf: Bahrain and the UAE openly celebrate it but Yemen doesn’t (in 2010 Syrian singer Asalah Nasri was threatened by al-Qaeda in regards to her Valentines Day performance).
Whether they love or hate Valentines Day, there is one thing certain about Arabs: they love romantic music! Most of their songs, even contemporary ones, are quite romantic by default. I decided to share below the Top 5 Most Romantic Songs from my Arabic Playlist.
1. Boshra feat. Saad “Badr al Gharam”
2. Tamer Hosny “Maymnesh Menk”
3. Rami Sabri “Bahebek”
4. Tamer Hosny “Etamen”
5. Amr Diab “Wahashtini”