Research Initiatives

Research Initiatives

The Gulf Family: Awarded Projects

1. Tribalism and Gulf Family Affairs
    Sebastian Maisel, Grand Valley State University 
 
Tribal values have been a fundamental ingredient in the social structure of families in the GCC states. Prior to the discovery of oil, social life was organized around the tribe, and the (extended) family was the backbone of society. This was layered with the economic component of the urban-rural-nomadic divide. The rapid transformation of the GCC states led most families to enter the urban world. Lifestyles, occupations, and material things changed; however, traditional customs and practices remained. This study seeks to understand how much of this ancient notion of tribalism is left in current family practices. I argue that the majority of lower- and middle-class families in the region have retained traditional values of family building and interaction. These intangible customs show little difference to the practices in the pre-oil period. However, recently, public life in the GCC states witnessed an increase in tribal activities through television programs, literature outlets, legal decisions, and political participation. Thus, the study also aims to measure the impact of increased public tribalism on domestic family dynamics and representations. For comparative reasons, the study begins with an overview of past tribal customs from the pre-oil era, while the main body of the study analyzes contemporary expressions of tribalism within the private and public sphere exploring local, regional, and transnational themes of interest. Revealing the official position of GCC states toward current tribal family practices will be the final component of the study. The research is based on anthropological fieldwork (residence, participant observation, oral histories) in the area and interviews with tribal family members and leaders as well as public officials. Another primary source and forum of tribal expression is the tribal online discussion board, which serves as an uncensored vehicle of tribal self-representation and whose contents are analyzed with regard to new tribal concepts of identities across political and hierarchical boundaries. Local newspaper and research archives will provide another layer of documenting private and official attitudes towards tribalism and family affairs.
 

2. The Soaring Bride-Price (Mahr) in a Context Of Modernization: A Complex Variable that is Affecting The Formation Of The Gulf Family: Case Studies In The Sultanate Of Oman, Qatar And Bahrain 
Jihan Safar, Sciences-Po Paris, Collège de France, and Laurent Pouquet, Quadrat-études, Sciences-Po Paris 

The Gulf family is facing a key challenge as a result of higher marriage costs. The bride-price (mahr)—which is the sum of money a man has the obligation to offer to his future bride—is becoming a major concern for the youth, family, and state. The mahr’s dramatic boom is affecting the whole marriage equilibrium, increasing the age at first marriage and the celibacy rate. The consequences range from more frequent mixed marriages and non-conventional ones (misyâr), to psychological problems and conjugal conflicts. Contrary to modernization theory that presumes a breakdown of the mahr system in a context of modernization and urbanization, the mahr has paradoxically risen in Gulf societies. According to theory, educated people who acquired modern norms should be the first to abandon the mahr system, en raison of a greater independence in the spouse selection and fewer arranged marriages. But despite modern influences in the Gulf, the traditional practice of the mahr seems resilient. Using qualitative and quantitative approaches conducted in Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain, our study will contribute to answering fundamental questions regarding matrimonial decision-making and the evolution and main drivers of the bride-price. Semi-directive interviews, a survey, and data collected from marriage registers will all be gathered to fill the literature gap and produce material on the mahr, a micro-familial issue that has a wider impact on the macro level and constitutes a major economic, psychological, and demographic challenge for the development of Gulf nations.

3. The Omani/Zanzibari Family: Its Diasporic Histories, Connectivites and Imaginings
    Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar
 
Informed by key anthropological debates on kinship and segmentation of ‘tribal’ and familial identities, this study asks several questions in light of Omani historical trajectory as an imperial power in the Zanzibar Archipelago: What is the Omani family? Does the family as an institution of social regulation entrusted with maintaining morality and regulating sexuality vary cross-culturally among Omani-Zanzibari families? What were the social and political forces that impacted the ways in which family networks were forged and/or destroyed? Under what circumstances did the family as a tributary form of an established ‘tribal’ structure prevalent in Oman transform itself into an interest group motivated by politics and economics in both locations on the Indian Ocean Rim? This chapter explores these questions by delineating several considerations which helped imbue both Oman and Zanzibar with a measure of exceptionalism and distinction unmatched neither in the Gulf nor in the Isles of Zanzibar. The chapter draws on the methods of historical ethnography, collection of primary sources, memoires, genealogical and pedigree trees of the Omani Dynasty in Zanzibar, participant observation and collection of oral narratives in Zanzibar and Oman, I elucidate the peculiar family rivalries that predominated ethnological narratives on the political histories of inheritance, governance and succession. The study shows how this imperial diaspora was formed out of sibling rivalries and conflicts. Through a close examination of family politics, I expand the debate on segmented identities within the patrilineal Omani households in Zanzibar, which spawned fragmentation at the micro-level. I argue that this process was consolidated through the sanctioned practices of concubinage and access to female slaves and their broader implications for illuminating the pluralism of these families. I conclude by highlighting the major challenges to Western theory about the Sultanate’s cohesion and physical and metaphorical consanguinity.
 
4. Mixed Marriages among Qataris
    Mohamed Mohieddin, Sanaa Taha Al Harahsheh, and Feras Al Meer, Doha International Family Institute (DIFI)
 
There are growing evidence that mixed marriage is on the rise worldwide and Qatar is no exception to this reality. This research project constitutes the first attempt to study this phenomenon among Qataris thus filling a gap in academic literature and providing bases for policy debate. This research raises questions concerned with the trends and characteristics of those involved in mixed marriage, the structural determinants of mixed marriages and their consequences for the individuals and their families and communities, as well as Qatari society as a whole. More specifically, this study looks at the role of the macro processes of globalization, international migration, and social differentiation in the rise of mixed marriage over the last thirty years as well as its impact on certain demographics including differential fertility patterns and celibacy. Furthermore, and at the micro level, it looks at variables related to individual motivations for mixed marriage and adjustment of mixed spouses. Furthermore, it addresses state policies and family, community, and society attitudes towards mixed marriage as well as issues of identity of children of mixed marriage and their degree of acceptance within the family, community, and society at large. To address these issues, this project adopts multiple research methods to collect quantitative and qualitative data including 30 face-to-face case studies and a questionnaire on a sample of 600 cases for comparison purposes. Quantitative data is analyzed using SPSS while qualitative data is analyzed using content and thematic analysis. The project details a dissemination plan through participation in seminars, conferences, and publications in peer review journals.
 
5. The Gulf Child: A New Phase of Family Law Reform?
     Lena-Maria Möller, Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law
 
Families are shaped by a variety of factors, including the social, political, and economic context in which they exist and operate. Equally influential for family structures and family transformations is the legal framework that states establish to govern the family. With regard to family laws in Muslim countries, however, scholarship has largely focused on questions of marriage and divorce and has thus excluded legal policies directed at the parent-child relationship. Yet without an adequate understanding of the development of child law regimes and the trends affecting them, we are left with an insufficient analysis of the legal dynamics shaping the family in Muslim-majority countries. My proposed project will remedy this gap in the scholarship by examining the notion of ‘the best interests of the child’ (maṣlaḥat al-ṭifl, maṣlaḥat al-maḥḍūn) as a paramount principle permeating family law in the Arab Gulf in recent years.
 
My project is devoted to a thorough understanding of how child law, as one central aspect of family law, has developed in the course of the past decade and what perspective it holds in the Arab Gulf States of Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. The study of the notion of the best interests of the child, encountered as an overriding principle in Gulf family law since the early 2000s, will provide a better understanding of the societal values and public attitudes towards the family in the Arab Gulf. The project will examine the legal and public discourse bringing about reforms in child law, the introduction of the concept of the best interests of the child into statutory law and its application by the judiciary. The aim is to contextualize these results within the overall social, political, and economic transformations that Gulf societies have undergone in the past decades. Having worked on family law regimes in the Arab Gulf for the past four years, I am familiar with the gaps in the scholarly research on Muslim family laws. I therefore expect the project to play an important role in shaping the scholarly debate from the perspective of child law and its development.