AL AIN // Hundreds of couples gathered in Al Ain last night to celebrate what is thought to be the nation's largest mass wedding. But the ceremony's start was delayed two hours, and a traditional Arab music performance was cancelled at the last minute for reasons that are unclear.
The men sweltered in the evening heat from 7pm until 9pm, when they were finally allowed into the air-conditioned Al Ain Convention Centre, where a feast of 20 camels and 205 goats awaited them. Despite the delay, the approximately 402 grooms in attendance were all smiles as they looked towards their new future as married men. For Seif Mohammed al Nuaimi, 32, a police officer with special needs, this was the happiest night of his life.
"I had been wanting to marry for quite some time but didn't have the means to," Mr al Nuaimi said. "Then when I heard about the mass wedding for government employees, I knew this was the chance. Now that tonight is the night, I can't describe how I feel in words." Theban Salem al Muhairi, 39, a policeman who is in a wheelchair, was planning on getting married last month but when he learnt of the mass wedding being planned three months ago, he decided to hold off until last night in order not to burden his family with the expense.
"A mass wedding is the way to go," Mr al Muhairi said. "It didn't cost me anything. I thank the government and our leaders and organizers for making this all happen." Hussein Murad al Mazen, 32, a policeman, also got married last night but his thoughts were with colleagues who did not get a chance to be part of the mass wedding. "I hope this can all be repeated again often because many who did want to participate couldn't find a bride in time, or couldn't get married for some other reason right now will still want to in the future," Mr al Mazen said.
For all 402 grooms, signing the official marriage paperwork will not happen until June 30, when the brides' reception takes place. For Khalid Khalifa al Ghafri, 24, it will be a nerve-wracking three weeks until then. "Tonight was a reception for the men," he said. "The real deal won't happen until the 30th when we sign the paperwork and we get to take our wives home." Mr al Ghafri was nervous that maybe his future wife would change her mind by then.
"Once I am living the married life, I will relax," he said. Ismail Ali Khouri, 26, a member of the civil defence, sat quietly in his chair overcome with emotion by what Al Ain Municipality had arranged. "This is excellent, the government provided everything for us," he said. "Wedding costs are huge and this has helped all of us a great deal." Mousa Betawy, marketing manager at Al Khaleej Hospitality, was disappointed with the turnout. He prepared meals for 3,800 people but only about half that number attended. "There is going to be a lot of food going to waste," he lamented.
A team of 220 from Al Khaleej Hospitality had worked from 1am Sunday throughout the night and day preparing the wedding hall and the meals. "It was quite a feat to get this all done in less than 18 hours," Mr Betawy said. "There was an event the night before in the convention centre that didn't end until 1am. "That's when we moved in to clean out the hall. We brought in 350 tables and 3,500 chairs as well as 300 VIP seats. We prepared mixed grill meats, camels, goats, appetizers, desserts and a lot of other items and prepared ice sculptures all day long."
Al Khaleej Hospitality greatly discounted the price of the wedding and would not reveal what it cost, but Mr Betawy said a similar feast would have been priced at around Dh5 million. email@example.com