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Calls for Mandatory Premarital Drug Testing for Men in Saudi Arabia

Influential public figures in Saudi Arabia are calling for the mandatory drug testing of all men who seek to marry Saudi women, just months after a similar rule was introduced targeting non-citizens.

In October 2016, a new measure was introduced that required all foreign men to undergo drug testing prior to marrying Saudi women. This law, which was decreed by King Salman, instructs for marriage applications to be denied to any male foreigner who tests positive for the use of any drug that is illegal in the kingdom, including alcohol.

Foreigners make up around one third of the population of Saudi Arabia.

Foreign women who seek to marry Saudi men are not required to undergo testing, Gulf Daily News reports.

The change that has been proposed would remove the nationality criteria of the testing rule by requiring all men who apply for Saudi marriage applications to undergo testing.

Those who have called for the expansion of the scope of this invasive approach have defended their views by claiming that it would protect women, and by alleging that drug use harms traditional family values.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Fawzan, a member of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia – the King Salman’s formal advisory body, and one of the most influential political bodies in the country – said that mandatory drug testing “will ensure the safety and security of a family and above all a healthy marriage”.

“Some people might oppose such testing but they do not know the destructive effects of drug use on a marriage and society as a whole”, he claimed earlier this month, according to Al-Riyadh, a pro-regime Saudi newspaper.

Khalid Al-Hulaibi, director of the Family Welfare Association, says that “We cannot blame women who request divorce from their husbands [due to drug use]”.

A particularly striking statement in a nation which bestows women almost no rights to separate from their husbands.

“We have received many a weeping wife who were completely broken down because their husbands took up drugs. […] It is a heart-wrenching situation. That is why the authorities should impose premarital drug tests on Saudis as well,” Al-Hulaibi added.

In Saudi Arabia, a country with no democratic accountability or free press, it is relatively easy for public figures to justify policy changes with exaggerated or fabricated claims.

For example, Saeed Al-Sareeha of the kingdom's counter-narcotic commission once made the unverifiable claim that 70 per cent of family violence was resultant of "drug addiction", and argued that this justified increasing drug testing.

The Health Ministry first attempted to introduce premarital drug testing in 2005 in a bid to prevent anyone with problematic drug use, foreign or Saudi, from getting married. Despite over 2.5 million drug tests being carried out between 2005 and 2013, the strategy – dubbed a “drug addiction test” – failed because people being tested discovered how to avoid detection of drug use.

“The ministry has found that addicts tend to abstain from taking drugs prior to getting married so they can pass drug tests. Once married, however, they return to their drug addiction,” a leading health official said in 2014.

It is unclear how officials will be able to prevent individuals from avoiding detection under the proposed change.

King Salman holds absolute legislative power, and as he has not yet commented on this proposal, it is yet to be seen if it will become law. It will not be surprising if he opts to impose the measure, as there has been an intensified crackdown on people who commit drug offences since he ascended to the throne in 2015.

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