Syrians Keen on Cyber Dates

More and more are turning to internet agencies to find partners across the Arab world.

Syrians Keen on Cyber Dates

More and more are turning to internet agencies to find partners across the Arab world.

Tuesday, 17 March, 2009
A growing number of online dating websites are competing to provide Muslim singles from Syria to Saudi Arabia with the largest selection of potential “soulmates” and “marriage partners”.

To register with these popular sites – with names such as Speed Date, Metrodate, Jhoos and Qiran – you’re asked standard questions such religion, education and body type, but some might also enquire whether the person of your dreams should wear a hijab.

Internet chatrooms, which are free to use, remain the most popular method of meeting like-minded singles on the internet. But wealthier Syrians who can afford to pay a monthly subscription fee of between 7 and 25 US dollars are increasingly drawn to specialised online dating sites, according to Ahmed Salouta, a professor of psychology at the University of Damascus.

Mousa Muhammed, the 24-year-old owner of a small internet cafe in the capital, said he has tried several of the websites, including Maktoob, Speed Dater and Qiran.

A chemistry major at the University of Damascus, Muhammed said he and his peers are interested in meeting women with similar interests.

“I didn’t like any of the women in my classes, but I was still looking for someone who I could talk to about science and other issues that I am interested in,” he said.

Part of the appeal of these sites, explained Muhammed, is the chance for young Syrians to interact with people of the opposite sex who they would never otherwise meet.

“The young want to learn as much as possible about the world outside Syria,” he said.

“On some of these sites, you can meet women from other countries and this can open up many doors. I have a friend who signed up for Qiran and fell in love with a woman living in Jordan.

“She said she would move to Damascus so they could get married, but he wanted a new life so he decided to settle in Amman near her family.”

Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Hi5 and Maktoob, are an even more popular, and cheaper, method for meeting potential partners.

Firas Suleiman, a 29-year-old supervisor at Yahoo Net Internet cafe in Damascus, estimated that more than 80 per cent of people come into his shop to socialise on these websites and chatrooms.

“I only have a few customers who use [the] online dating sites,” he said.

“The rest prefer to use the free websites. While they don’t have as much structure as the official dating websites, they are more appealing for those who aren’t looking for marriage.”

Suleiman said that subscriber-based dating websites usually attract educated, internet-savvy professionals in their mid 20s.

“I think teenagers and young adults use these websites primarily for cybersex,” he said. “[But] I know of several wealthier, college-educated customers who signed up for these matrimonial sites and eventually got married.”

Older Syrians – particularly parents whose children are experimenting with online dating – often don’t approve of this practice, said Obeida al-Maghribi, a 25-year-old college student who has used several dating websites.

“Most older Syrians have no idea that these sites exist,” said Al-Maghribi.

“Even younger Syrians – those who are uneducated or have little access to the internet – are unfamiliar with these websites. Parents who do know about online… have great contempt for the activity,” he said.

“They do not view it as an honourable way to meet your mate.”

Syrian males are given slightly more leeway to participate in the new practice, according to Salouta, who heads the guidance department at Ba’ath University.

“Parents view men who use online dating sites as trying to satisfy a curiosity. They view the internet as a virtual land of make-believe,” he said.

However, he said that it was a different story for women, “Women who use these sites are judged harshly by a society that thinks they should play a passive role in relationships.

“It will be interesting to see whether this new way of meeting people eventually becomes more acceptable as it has in other parts of the world.”
Syria, Jordan
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