The Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) is keeping track of the numbers of weddings in the country through the statistics office, it said. Figures for 2006 are not yet available but those for 2005 showed the number of weddings up from 202 in 2004 to 220 in 2005, and that was for couples where the bride and groom were both Lebanese.
Dozens of other Lebanese women and men also came to Cyprus to marry people of other nationalities. In fact 40 Lebanese men married Cypriot women in 2005 and nine Lebanese women married Cypriot men. Lebanese men also marry eastern European brides on the island.
“It’s becoming a big thing, the Lebanese market for weddings in Cyprus,” a CTO spokesman said. “It's mainly because they are not allowed to have civil weddings in Lebanon.”
The spokesman said when interfaith couples want to marry in Lebanon, one is forced to give up their religion, which makes civil marriage a better option for many. Also, younger Lebanese may simply not want a religious ceremony at all.
Cyprus is also very attractive for the weddings as it’s only 20 minutes by plane, paperwork is minimal and costs would be low, in the region of $1,000 to $1,500 for a package deal. “It's definitely an up and coming market for Cyprus,” said the spokesman.
According to a recent article in Lebanon’s English-language Daily Star, a wedding in Cyprus is the only affordable option for inter-faith couples since a civil wedding in Lebanon is “out of the question”.
The paper said efforts to legalise civil marriage had been going on for decades. In 1998 a reform bill introduced by then-President Elias Hrawi was passed by Cabinet only to be vetoed by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the paper said. Efforts to raise the issue again in 2002 also failed due mainly to the influence of the various religious leaders in Lebanon.
“The system of marriage as it stands in Lebanon is designed to keep couples of different faiths apart, critics say, thus perpetuating the separation of religions that is the basis of Lebanon's sectarian system,” said the Daily Star, adding that marriages were also an important source of income for sheikhs and priests, and allowing nonreligious services would deprive them of revenue.
What is most odd for Lebanese couples who come to Cyprus are their encounters with Israeli couples on the same mission. Israel remains the second-largest source of wedding tourism after the UK.
Like Lebanon, civil marriage does not exist in Israel.
In 2004, 1,011 Israelis tied the knot with fellow nationals. Also in Cyprus that year scores of other Israelis married other nationals.
The trend continued into 2005 when 1,124 Israeli couples got married in Cyprus and another 300 or so Israeli men and women married foreigners.
Britons still top the nuptials list
THERE ARE more Britons marrying in Cyprus than Cypriots according to the latest available figures.
Britain tops the list with 3,322 weddings in Cyprus in 2004, and over 4,200 in 2005. In both years, British weddings in Cyprus surpassed the number of marriages between Cypriots.
In 2004, 2,646 Cypriots married Cypriots and in 2005 that number was 3,037.
In 2004 over 1,450 Cypriot men married foreign women, almost all eastern European, while 573 Cypriot women married foreign men, mainly Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis and British men.
A year later that number rose to 692 with Cypriot brides marrying 190 Greeks, 33 Indians, 40 Lebanese, 53 Pakistanis, 86 Syrians, 39 Britons and 24 Americans.
When it came to Cypriot men, 1,460 married foreign women, 465 of whom were from Russia and the Ukraine, 143 from Moldova, 135 from Romania, and 71 from Greece.
And it’s not only Cypriot men that marry more and more Eastern European women but also Greek men and British men. In total 1,646 eastern European brides walked down the aisle in Cyprus in 2005, almost half the total number of Cypriot brides that year.
Over 70 British women married Cypriots in 2005 and 26 married Irishmen, while 33 Irish women married British men and another 207 Irish couples tied the knot on the island.