Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo finalized his deal to join the Saudi club Al Nassr last month, making him by far the biggest name in the Saudi Pro League. Between the contract and another deal to be an ambassador for Saudi Arabia’s 2030 World Cup bid, Ronaldo is reportedly set to earn more than $400 million in the kingdom.
Ronaldo arrived in Saudi Arabia last week along with his children and longtime girlfriend Georgina Rodriguez. But Ronaldo and Rodriguez are not married, and their arrival in the Gulf state prompted numerous reports in international media that Saudi authorities are expected to allow them to live together in violation of Saudi law.
Saudi Arabia, like many other Muslim-majority countries, does not allow men and women to live together unless they are “mahram” — an Arabic term referring to close family members or spouses.
The rule is rooted in Islamic law. The prophet of Islam, Muhammad, said a man should not be in a private setting with a woman who he is not mahram to, unless her mahram is present, according to Egypt’s Islamic legal center Dar al-Ifta.
This rule is commonly applied in hotels throughout the region. However, in 2019, Saudi Arabia decided to allow unmarried foreign visitors to share hotel rooms.
The law specified “foreign tourists,” the BBC reported at the time. It is unclear whether the law applies to foreign residents of Saudi Arabia.
The “Life in Saudi Arabia” website said that unmarried foreigners living in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to share a house nor hotel room, but that authorities do not closely monitor them as they would unmarried Saudi couples.
The reports that Saudi authorities will allow Ronaldo and Rodriguez to live together appear to originate from the Spanish news agency EFE, which interviewed two Saudi lawyers. One said that Saudi authorities recently have turned a blind eye to unmarried couples living together, though they may bring up the law in the event of a problem or crime. The other lawyer said that authorities do not apply the law to foreigners.
EFE’s report was widely cited in Spanish and English-language media.
Why it matters: A high-profile foreigner such as Ronaldo living with his girlfriend could be a further sign of the gradual societal changes in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, the kingdom granted women the right to drive and also removed the requirement that women cover their hair in public. In 2019, Saudi Arabia relaxed some aspects of the male guardianship system.
Various forms of legal discrimination against women continue in Saudi Arabia, however, according to a December report from Amnesty International.