The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It feels like the end of the world. So we should get married now.

Alaa al-Taweel and her partner, Essam Abd el-Fattah, became engaged in a simple ceremony along the Nile River in Cairo at sunset as a few friends and family stood apart. (Family photo)
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DUBAI — The world seemed to be falling apart under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, with Egypt already under a nighttime curfew. Alaa al-Taweel knew it was time to go ahead with her marriage.

The plan for an engagement ceremony to be attended by family traveling from the deep south of the country followed a few months later by a wedding suddenly seemed untenable, with more restrictions closing in and no end in sight. So just a few days later, Taweel, 24, and her partner were engaged, in a simple ceremony along the Nile River at sunset as a few friends and family stood appropriate distances from one another.

Across the world, the pandemic has forced the postponement of countless weddings, which are top social events of the year in many traditional societies. But some couples are somehow still finding a way to tie the knot — because they just can’t wait or are convinced it’s now or never.

“I read a lot about the deteriorating situation in Italy, the number of total deaths every day, I was terrified,” Taweel recalled. “I woke [my partner] up in the middle of night telling him, ‘If the world is about to end, we have to hurry up to live some days together first,’ and he super agreed.”

After the Nile engagement earlier this month, everyone hurried home to their Cairo apartments ahead of curfew to video chat on Zoom with those who could not attend. The couple hopes to be married in a few months. Somehow.

“We didn’t care a lot about the ceremony. It was about us, me and him and our need to be together,” Taweel said.

Many governments have recognized the risk of the virus spreading during weddings and moved quickly to close down wedding halls and ban gatherings. In a tragic case in Morocco, just days before a lockdown was declared, a wedding in the country’s tiny Jewish community and its celebration of the Purim festival resulted in dozens of infections and 12 deaths from the novel coronavirus.

In Dubai, the glitzy Persian Gulf emirate known for its high-end lifestyle that even promotes wedding tourism, the industry has been devastated. A multitude of weddings have been postponed, and there is little idea of when they can resume.

“Honestly for us, in the events business, we will be the last ones coming back,” lamented wedding planner Stefanie Heller, who had to refund five couples this month who either canceled or postponed their weddings.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates suspended weddings and divorces to keep people out of government offices, but then, in apparent recognition of a need, they instituted online Muslim marriages. A wedding license can be obtained from the Ministry of Justice website, and then a date will be set for a video conference with an imam reciting the Koran. On Sunday, the government announced that a couple from Abu Dhabi, the capital, had become the first to use the service and be married via Zoom.

A similar service is expected to be organized for divorces. Morocco has followed suit with its own online wedding license application.

Yet it is not the ceremony that everyone remembers but the party with friends and family from all over. With this in mind, Indian couple Preet Singh and Neet Kaur decided to conduct their whole wedding party online; the bride and groom were not even in the same city.

The couple abandoned their plans for a series of wedding events in Mumbai, stretching across several days and three venues with 150 guests flying in from Australia, Dubai and Canada. Instead, the couple organized a wedding ceremony and then a party over Zoom with 50 relatives and friends.

“We thought if everyone is working from home, attending school, college and even yoga class from home, why can’t we get married from home?” Mumbai-based Singh said. “We eventually found a way to get married while fulfilling our duty of staying at home and also got to set an example of social distancing, which is the need of the hour.”

The couple, fittingly, met online a year ago, and clips from their Zoom chat show the guests in their own homes wearing colorful wedding finery, dancing and giving congratulatory speeches.

Kaur, who lives in New Delhi, said there had seemed to be little chance they could get the entire family together. “For me, a small wedding with all our loved ones takes precedence over a lavish wedding any day.”

For Noa Kidan Levy in Israel, small was also beautiful. As the number of infections escalated in Israel, the government moved to shut down social gatherings. Weddings were broken up by police or even held in supermarkets to circumvent restrictions.

For Kidan Levy, the increasingly grave situation resulted in the incredible shrinking wedding, going from 250 guests in a grand venue to an event with 100 — until new directives said no more than 20 could gather. “Up until the last minute, we did not know where we would get married or even if we would get married,” she said. With aging parents, they decided to call the whole event off.

Except their parents wouldn’t let them. And so they held it with 20 people in a backyard late last month.

“We had planned something very large, and then we had a very small wedding, and it was beautiful. Me and Moran were high on the clouds for days,” Kidan Levy said. “A force larger than us made us have a wedding that was smaller and more intimate and, in the end, it was much more suitable for both of us.”

In Gaza, May Tiryaqi initially postponed her wedding to June. She then decided to go through with the original date after all, even though her father could not attend because he was in quarantine. She told the Palestinian news agency WAFA that after a year of engagement, it was not clear whether they would even be able to marry in June so it was best to proceed because they had already paid for so much.

“We decided to have the marriage now despite of all of these problems. It will be less costly of course, as it will be limited to the two families, no filming, no hall, nothing, but I will wear the white dress,” she said.

In the video of the wedding, Tiryaqi is resplendent in her bridal dress with a matching white mask and gloves as she takes selfies with a similarly masked groom. After the ceremony, the couple dances in a courtyard, surrounded by a few masked relatives while neighbors applaud from the balconies.

Not everyone has gotten the message. In the crowded Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, the wedding party is alive and well. Zuhair Al-Atwani, a well-known wedding photographer from the neighborhood, says he still works as much as ever.

“Weddings are still going normally, but they don’t gather in wedding halls because they are all closed. It’s just driving on the streets in a convoy consisting of many cars of the groom’s family . . . to the bride’s house and picking her up, [and there is] lots of

dancing on the streets and shooting.”

In a wedding video Atwani posted on his Facebook page, there is little social distancing as friends dance around the groom while he gets ready, waving Kalashnikov rifles. Then, when guests arrive at the home where the celebration takes place, everyone greets each other with kisses on the cheek.

As night falls, the men dance packed together in the garden. A few people wear masks, some wear one glove or two.

At one point, one of the groom’s only friends with a mask turns to the camera, whips it off and flashes an enormous smile before he continues dancing while twirling it on a raised finger.

Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo, Tania Dutta in New Delhi, Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem, Hazem Balousha in Gaza and Mustafa Salim in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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Today’s coverage from Post correspondents around the world

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