Hoda and Arafet, the love story that has captivated Yemen
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Hoda al-Nirane, a 22-year old Saudi woman, is being held in a detention centre in Sanaa and risks deportation. Her crime is to have fled from Saudi Arabia to Yemen to escape a forced marriage and marry her beloved, a Yemeni national. This improbable love story has created an unprecedented solidarity movement in this otherwise conservative country.
Hoda (the woman in black) and Arafet (second from the right) during their most recent appearance in front of a tribunal in Sanaa. Photo published on Twitter.
Hoda al-Nirane, a 22-year old Saudi woman, is being held in a detention centre in Sanaa and risks deportation. Her crime is to have fled from Saudi Arabia to Yemen to escape a forced marriage and marry her beloved, a Yemeni national. This improbable love story has created an unprecedented solidarity movement in the otherwise conservative country.
Hoda will be judged on December 1 by a tribunal in Sanaa for illegally crossing the border. She risks deportation back to Saudi Arabia, where she claims her life would be in danger. The man she loves is accused of being an accomplice.
Photomontage of Hoda and Arafet created by activists and shared on social networks.
In an interview with Saudi television, the young woman explained that she met Arafet Mohamed Tahar, a 25-year-old Yemeni immigrant, three years ago in a mobile phone store in Assir, a city in southern Saudi Arabia, where he worked. Arafet asked the woman’s parents for her hand in marriage, but they refused. Last September, the young woman fled in the middle of the night. She hitchhiked and then took a bus to the Yemeni border, where she called Arafet to ask him to meet her. “At that point, he was not aware of the situation. I confronted him with a fait accompli, because I knew that if I’d warned him, he would have tried to stop me,” she explained.
Since early October, Hoda’s father has been telling Saudi media that his daughter was “bewitched” and “kidnapped” by Yemenis.
“I would rather die than be separated from him”
In an audio recording, Hoda rejected her father’s claims, and said that she fled her home to escape a forced marriage with a family member in order to marry the man she loves.
“The only thing that bewitched me was Arafet’s love, nothing else”, she explains in the recording. “My parents wanted to choose the life I would lead, but I don’t want to follow the path of my older sisters — who are now divorced — who were forced into arranged marriages […] I love Arafet more than anything, and I’d rather die than be separated from him.
A Yemeni man living in the United States shared his support for the couple on Twitter. Hi sign reads: “We all support Hoda and Arafet”.
Hoda has already appeared three times before a tribunal. A lawyer sent by the Saudi embassy in Sanaa has asked for the young woman to be extradited back to the kingdom, claiming that she had been “manipulated due to her young age”. He also claimed that Hoda had been married to a cousin three months earlier and that, as a result, she could not marry another man.
However, Hoda's bravery and determination has inspired many in Yemen. Messages supporting the couple and calls to protest have been flourishing on social media. Many protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Sanaa for her latest hearing, this past Sunday.
Tawakkul Karman (first person on the left), a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, with Hoda in the Sanaa detention center. Photo published on the Yemeni activist’s Facebook page.
Two weeks ago, the tribunal authorised representatives from the UN High Commission for Refugees to visit Hoda at the detention centre where she is being held. The young woman seeks to obtain humanitarian asylum via UNHCR, because she claims that she will be targeted by reprisals if she returns to Saudi Arabia.
Hoda has also received the support of the Yemeni human rights activist and Nobel laureate Tawakkul Karman, who visited her last Wednesday. On her Facebook page, Karman made the following statement: “I witnessed in her the strength of the Arab woman. […] Hoda spoke confidently about her right to choose a husband […]. She also claimed to have preserved her virtue […]. I call on the two concerned countries to support and bless this marriage.”
Translation: “What would have happened had Arafet been Turkish? (…) Would she have been the target of so much racism and contempt? (…) Yemeni immigrants are often treated as second-class citizens in Saudi Arabia."
Translation: “I hope that they will marry, and that [Hoda’s] parents will be convinced that this is the best solution.”