In 50 years, Saleh al-Sayeri says, he has married 58 women and has forgotten the names of most of the 54 he has divorced. He knows he has had 10 sons, but ask about daughters and...
USFAN, Saudi Arabia — In 50 years, Saleh al-Sayeri says, he has married 58 women and has forgotten the names of most of the 54 he has divorced. He knows he has had 10 sons, but ask about daughters and he counts on his fingers: 22. No, no, 28. No, that’s too many. He settles on 25.
Al-Sayeri, a 64-year-old shepherd-turned-businessman, says his marital adventures have cost him more than $1.6 million in wedding expenses and divorce settlements, but he says he’d do it a million times over.
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“Marriage doesn’t bore me,” he said, relaxing on cushions at a carpeted, open-air reception area in his 22-horse stable in Usfan, in the desert 500 miles west of Riyadh. “I’m the happiest man in the world.”
Al-Sayeri’s story might seem a bizarre curiosity, but it touches a nerve in Saudi Arabia, where women’s status is a matter of international controversy.
When his story surfaced in Saudi media in March, some readers reacted angrily.
Sayyidaty magazine, which interviewed al-Sayeri, also spoke to psychiatrist Mona al-Sawwaf, who said al-Sayeri does not treat a wife as a human being “but as a piece of clothing he can change whenever he pleases or an object.”
“The biggest blame lies with the parents” who let their daughters enter such marriages, she said.
Al-Sayeri dismisses such critics as “crazy,” insisting he is not breaching Islamic laws, which permit a man to have four wives at a time.
None of Al-Sayeri’s ex-wives could be reached. Money is not an issue for al-Sayeri, who says he has made a fortune trading in cars and property. Two of his sons who were at the stable while their father was being interviewed rolled their eyes whenever the subject of marriage came up. They said they had come to accept that their father is “mizwaj,” a man who likes to marry often.
One son, Fahd al-Sayeri, recalled a desert hunting trip some 15 years ago in the remote Empty Quarter. He and his friends had gone in search of gasoline when they heard celebratory gunshots coming from a tent.
“Out of politeness, we asked who’s wedding it was,” Fahd said. “The guests responded with my father’s name. I was shocked.”
The elder al-Sayeri doesn’t hide his marriages, he just doesn’t always bother to spread the word. He said two of his daughters learned they were sisters and two sons they were brothers at school.
Al-Sayeri said three of his four current wives — he said he keeps each wife in a separate villa or town and assures each that she’s his favorite — have been with him 18 to 40 years. The fourth seems to be the one who usually gets replaced.
“It’s the one for renewal,” al-Sayeri said. “I like to change my fourth wife every year.”
His latest marriage was to a 14-year-old girl nine months ago. She was the perfect age, he said.
“She was shy at first and didn’t answer but then she said yes,” al-Sayeri recalled. “Now, we’re such good friends it feels we’ve known each other 40 years.”
A Saudi woman will usually marry whomever her family chooses, and marriage is considered acceptable from the onset of puberty.
Al-Sayeri claims he has never forced a woman to marry him, and has never been turned down. He said today’s women are “more pleasant to have around.”
“They take better care of themselves, use makeup and do not run away every time I want to touch them,” he said.