FUJAIRAH // There were 135 grooms but not a single bride in sight at a mass wedding ceremony in Fujairah on Wednesday night. However, Fujairah's sheikhs were there, and for the grooms this royal touch was enough to ensure a perfect party.
"If we marry with many people we will enjoy it more, and the sheikh will come to my wedding," said Abdulla Atlas, 22, who works in Al Ain.
"It's a very, very good thing for us to see our sheikh and the sheikh help us if I cannot afford a wedding alone."
The brides will come later.
Mass weddings are common in winter to help young grooms cope with escalating wedding costs. Weddings in Fujairah average between Dh300,000 and Dh400,000, a figure that leads many to postpone marriage.
To help Fujairah's young couples, Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad, the Crown Prince of Fujairah, announced three weeks ago that he would sponsor a mass wedding to help save grooms a hefty sum and the stress of wedding preparations.
In the glowing neon lights of Al Bustan wedding hall, 135 bridegrooms rose to greet Sheikh Mohammed and his entourage one by one, each wearing the gold trimmed black bisht gown he gave them over a white kandora and matching white ghutra. A heavy smell of oud perfume floated through the air as they passed.
After a quick handshake and a collective photo shoot that perhaps bore more resemblance to a school photo than a wedding picture, the group moved into the Grand Hall for a feast of 200 kilograms of biryani, harees, salad and 200 fruit baskets.
Mustafa al Blooshi was among the happy husbands-to-be. He had waited two long years to marry his bride. Two weeks ago, he set a wedding date with his friends.
"When we saw the advert in the newspaper we decided to go and get married together, after accepting and confirming with our families," said Mr al Blooshi, 26, who works in Dubai. "Now everything is so expensive and if someone makes a small party, people will talk about them."
His bride will celebrate in a hall next week with hundreds of women.
"We were friends from when we were babies," Mr al Blooshi said. "Our love story, it will start next week."
In the outside hall, Ali al Mansourie, 29, and Mr Atlas photographed themselves on their mobile phones, posing by baby pink pillars.
Mr al Mansourie pledged to dance in his car for the entire drive back to Al Ain for work the next day.
"About me, I feel like a sheikh," Mr Atlas said, pointing to his new bisht. "It's very nice to wear this. It's maybe one day in my life I will get the chance."
Mr Atlas has been engaged for 13 months, since his mother and sister approached his bride to ask for her hand.
But engagement is an altogether more recent status for Mr al Mansourie. He got engaged last week, after seeing the mass wedding announcement, to a woman he had his eyes and his heart set on for years. It was a sign, and he was not going to miss his chance.
Their brides will celebrate their weddings individually in the weeks and months to follow with other women.
But the biggest task for these bridegrooms still lies ahead. At the end of each woman's party the groom must walk down an aisle before hundreds of women to join his bride at the top of a platform. There, he will stand under the scrutinising gaze of all the women.
"Abdulla is nervous," teased his friend, Mr al Mansourie. "No, no, no. I will be happy," Mr Atlas protested.
Khalifa Masood, the wedding hall director, said about half of the grooms felt great terror when their turn came to enter the hall of women. The most fearful were often dragged in by force by their mothers and sisters.
"But man is man," Mr Masood said. "If they are really scared, they put their head down and walk."