Mail-order bride business sets up shop in the Emirates
ABU DHABI // A caring, devoted and intelligent wife is something most men wouldn't put a price on. But Joseph Weiner is happy to: it's about Dh7,000.
The chief executive of a successful mail-order bride businesses, Mr Weiner has opened a franchise in Abu Dhabi to match men with Czech women who, he says, are "unspoilt by feminism".
In the six months since Hand in Hand established a regional presence here, at least two couples have been married.
"It's an industry that is booming," said Joseph Weiner, 73, who is based in London. "A guy normally wants a beautiful, younger woman. To find that kind of woman is impossible, whether they are in Europe or the UAE."
It costs just over Dh7,000 ($2,000) for a "supervised courtship" - a process whereby a client is matched with a younger Czech woman looking for a better life.
Mr Weiner said Czech women offered a combination of brains, beauty and fidelity, adding that Donald Trump married a woman from the Czech Republic.
"It's no accident," he said. "Czech women are a better quality of women.
"Men don't want feminists. I've never met a single man who said they wanted a feminist. That kind of woman isn't about to bake you apple strudel at home, she wants her own career."
Like others in his field, Mr Weiner is reluctant to use the expression "mail-order bride", preferring to describe his business as international matchmaking.
Another matchmaker who rejects the stigma associated with the label is Angelika Lancsak, an Austrian whose London-based business has dozens of clients from Dubai and the Emirates.
"I prefer to call my business head hunting for demanding singles," she said.
"Mail-order bride refers to a low level of business. It means going for a woman from Russia who has no money, who should be grateful to live in another country where standards are better.
"That's not what I'm about. I take care that they come from a good background. I don't accept gold-diggers.
"I get 30 to 40 requests daily, and only 5 per cent of them are accepted."
On her website she has adverts from both men and women based in the Emirates who are looking for marriage.
One woman, from Dubai, suggests she is looking for "a long-term relationship or marriage with a supportive gentleman".
However, despite the adverts, Ms Lancsak said interest had died down in the past two years. "When the recession came up people went back to China, India or Saudi Arabia," she said.
"Also, the Gulf is a very complicated place. People find it difficult to settle down. Everyone is after quick pleasure."
The business also has an ugly undercurrent.
Low-level operators are often riddled with false applicants, such as organised crime groups looking to squeeze money out of love-struck men.
Ohood al Suwaidi, the communications director for Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, said the issue should be judged on a case-by-case basis.
"If they are coming here for marriage, then it's not human trafficking," she said.
"But if they are coming here and then being forced into a different type of activity, like prostitution, it is different."
Nick McGeehan, the founder and director of UAE rights group Mafiwasta, agreed the industry had risks: "Women can be put in a very vulnerable position," he said. "They could be brought into exploitation."
Both Hand in Hand and Ms Lancsak's personalised business claim to thoroughly vet the people who use their service, and boast a non-divorce rate of 60 per cent.
However, despite possessing a veneer of legitimacy, Mr Weiner said few men spoke openly about using the service.
"People don't want to admit they met their wife through an agency," he said. "They would rather say they met her at a supermarket."