In the last few weeks I have heard about several Gulf Coast Nationals marrying cousins. Today when speaking to a colleague when I asked how he met his wife, he simply stated her father is my uncle. It was the most natural thing in the world for him to just state this. Another woman stated that her husband was her cousin and felt this was an advantageous connection for her future as his wife. I know I am coming from a very, very, very, American perspective when I say the following: gross.
Consanguineous marriages are common in Qatar (and the Gulf region) and this is an issue that supposedly is being addressed by the Qatari government. Marriages within close-knit communities often lead to people being too closely related, and to intra-family marriage. Up until relatively recently the geographical and tribal make-up of Qatar has necessitated marrying those you might be related to; however, in the past 100 years or so the culture plays more of a role in family marriages than the desert. This issue is a hot topic right now with the government and in the academic context.
The government is considering policy changes, and has already approved some measures, that are meant to decrease and stop marriages of those to whom you are genetically similar. The problem is that the culture works in direct opposition these changes. If you want your son to only marry a woman who is “pure” and has an intact reputation, what better way to assure this than to have him marry a cousin who you have seen grow up and know how she was “controlled”? If you want family connections to remain strong what better way than to have your daughter marry the son of a powerful uncle? Another major reason for the marriage of family members is the restriction of women’s social lives. Most women primarily socialize with other female family members. If you are looking for a wife for your son, because your son can’t date, what women have you interacted with? I am sure there are much deeper reasons for these marriages, in my short time in Qatar these are the only reasons I have seen first hand.
Over the past year I have learned more about the genetic consequences of marrying someone with genetics that are too similar to your own than I ever thought I would. This topic comes up surprisingly often in the Gulf. I have seen posters related to this topic. Medical experts have come to lecture on this topic. Newspapers have run articles several times this year on this topic. Even with all of this attention on the subject and recent government regulations, there will be a wedding this weekend between cousins.