Middle East Lifestyles – What about the ladies?

And so to the question from Coffeegrounded a few weeks back:

Are women not allowed to gather at cafes during the evening hours?
I live in pure ignorance of the Middle Eastern Lifestyles, mainly for fear that if I search to read about it I will be considered a person of interest…while living in a my native country that espouses freedoms galore.



The lifestyle of ladies in the Middle East varies hugely from country to country and from social strata to social strata. Cash is king as in most countries and if you happen to live in one of the regional countries that has lots of shopping centres then all is possible in terms of bags by Hermes and shoes from Jimmy Choo.

Some items are haram (forbidden). For the expat non-Muslim lady (just like expat non-Muslim men) alcohol and bacon are not on general sale and require special licenses which allows purchases in special shops, or in sections of shops that are off limits to Muslims to enter. The aforementioned is specific to the UAE. Qatar has one large shop where both goods are on sale (an amusing mix to the Western minds). Saudi Arabia does not permit the sale of either product under any circumstances. Almost all countries have an illegal black market where those who wish to do so may buy alcohol once they make the approproate contact. MB read just today in a Kuwaiti newspaper that two Indians got nabbed by the police in recent days for operating an illegal alcohol factory (MB is in Kuwait for a few days). The two lads had over 1,000 bottles and over 80 barrels of product ready for sale when the forces of law and religion arrived.



One notices that the local supermarkets have very large sections for the sale of yeast and extremely large bags of sugar. Perhaps it hasn’t yet dawned on the authorities that the quantities purchased would supply enough bread to feed the entire planet, and that if it’s not being used for bread then in all likelihood it’s for another purpose. But I guess they will figure that out in time and until then the home producers will just keep producing at home. But MB digresses – back to the local ME ladies!

Saudi ladies in theory need the permission of their male guardians to go anywhere or do anything, and this rule generally holds with almost no exceptions. There was much publicity about two years back when the Ministry of the Interior introduced a text messaging service to automatically send an auto message to the registered guardian any time a Saudi female had her passport swiped at the airport. The authorities considered it a safety measure but obviously most sane people would consider the whole male guardian business, let alone the texting service, to be a form of mental derangement, requiring some sort of treatment.



The ladies in the UAE have more free and a more open lifestyle than their Saudi counterparts, and are free to do more or less what they wish. But traditions and customs, not to mention religious laws, can also influence situations in even the more outwardly liberal locations. MB knows a wealthy young Arabic lady who is one of the heads of the family multi-million dollar business. During the working week she attends her daily work duties, but at weekends the unmarried lady can only go out socially in the presence of her mother or siblings, with the permission of her father, even though she is not far off thirty years of age. Otherwise she remains in the family home.



The above stories are applicable to ladies from Gulf Arab states who generally wear the traditional black dress when going out. In the case of ladies from the Lavant (Syria, Jordan, Lebanon) there is generally a more relaxed attitude to women’s rights and lifestyles, and such ladies would never wear a black abiya (burka). They will generally dress in Western type clothing, but some may wear headscarves, even on a night out with their husbands and friends. For the single ladies there will, generally speaking, not be any one-to-one dates. Dating will generally be done in the presence of family members or friends.



MB’s recent post mentioned the habit of smoking shisha in cafe’s by male Arabs. Coffeegrounded asked if the women can also do the same. Generally speaking the answer is yes, if in the company of related males, but you will not generally witness ‘girl night outs’. One might see a group of ladies together in the cafes of the shopping malls, but rarely in the shisha cafes late at night.

6 Comments on “Middle East Lifestyles – What about the ladies?

  1. Pingback: Meditating Muslimah on “hijab to be a religious obligation” | Stepping Toes

  2. Quite informative. Thank you, MB.

    It appears that women are definitely a sub-class of the caste systems. It makes one wonder, do they know enough to understand a life beyond the confines of their community, but then if they could unchain themselves from their current reality, would they choose to do so?


    Thank you, MB!


    • Most just get on with life. And maybe I have painted too bleak a picture. I forgot to mention that ladies are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but that’s well known anyway. Dubai the most liberal area as I mention in another comment. Oh ya, forgot to mention also that I find the Arab women far more intelligent than the men!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If they are content within their world, then who are we to judge? It is only when we witness horrors of submission, placed upon people whose lives have been disrupted, that we have a rite to become disjointed.

        I’ve been watching the exodus of refugees from the Hungarian camps today. The normalcy of their lives were torn to shreds by those who felt they knew what was best for them. Now, where are those very people? Instead, these people, walk by foot, out of Serbia and toward the promise of a refuge. They carry little and hope for far greater.

        It matters not where we look in this world, chaos is the hallmark of the hour. Not one civil rights violation can afford to be ignored. This is a global issue and each of us has a responsibility to stop ignoring it and refrain from taking the position, “Someone else needs to take care of this.” But in our ignorance or inability to understand the complexities of ethnic cleansing, we stare into the distance and hope against hope that things will simply work themselves out.

        In our darkest hours we must do all we can to keep hope alive, after all, this is our humanity. We own this. We cannot run, hide, murder, or ignore.

        Thanks again, MB. I learn much from your writings.


  3. Searching my memory for our visit to Dubai about 15 years ago. Seems to me the women were moving about fairly freely. Groups of women trying on clothes and giggling, I was amazed at the range of colorful clothing underneath those hide all black burkas.


    • Dubai unlike anywhere else in the ME. By far the most modern and open and tolerant. Constantly voted by ME kids as the place they most wished their own homelands were like. You should try to visit again. It has advanced even more in last 10 years or so. You would not recognize it.


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