In an era where a growing number of Americans have met their spouses on Tinder, online dating services are making their presence felt in a lesser-known market for Internet romance: the Arab world. “Tinder is a global online dating platform and is available in 190+ countries,” notes the website of a mobile app that advertises itself as the best way to go about “dating, meeting new people, expanding your social network, or meeting locals while traveling.”
During my half year in Morocco as a participant in a student exchange program, I learned of this trend firsthand. Whereas I had only spent a few weeks in Iraq as a journalist and a little over a month in Oman as a student, my six months in Meknes and Rabat gave me time to date.
I arrived in Meknes in 2019 planning to study Morocco’s culture by interviewing academics and touring archives, but my months-long foray into online dating revealed more about the lifestyles of Moroccans my age. My first Tinder match in Morocco introduced me to Meknes’ best cafes, and my second told me the bizarre saga of the city’s abandoned zoo, now an accidental sanctuary for muscular goats. Both my dates advised me to avoid the man with the monkey in the medina, a lesson whose importance became clear when he tried to put the animal on my shoulder.
The friendships and relationships that I formed through Tinder taught me facts about Morocco that I might have missed otherwise.
On a wider level, the friendships and relationships that I formed through Tinder taught me facts about Morocco that I might have missed otherwise. A number of my friends from online dating applications worked at French call centers, highlighting Morocco’s little-known role as a hub for the Francophonie’s ever-expanding need for customer service. I also befriended a few Moroccans who had traveled to China on scholarships, a critical link between Beijing and Rabat.
As much as I enjoyed discovering new details about Morocco, I most appreciated online dating applications for connecting me with my closest Moroccan friends. Given that, before my arrival, I barely spoke the Moroccan dialect of Arabic—Darija—I needed all the assistance that I could get. After I moved to Rabat, my friends brought me to bars, took me to the movies, and walked me through the ins and outs of life in a new city. I took advantage of the opportunity to practice the vocabulary that I had developed in class, strengthening my once-dubious grasp of Darija.
In addition to using Tinder myself, I got a clearer idea of how Moroccans dated one another from anecdotal evidence. While my sometimes-comedic search for lifelong love remained confined to Bumble and Tinder, a few of my Moroccan friends had managed to steal the hearts of strangers by sending them spontaneous messages on Facebook and Instagram. I lacked the courage to test this method, but my braver friends and my own Arabic teacher attested to its effectiveness.
In a stranger episode, a handful of my Tinder dates told me stories of men creating fake profiles meant to come across as American or European in an attempt to catfish women. I had made this discovery the hard way: before meeting me, some of my Tinder matches accused me of running a fake account because I had attempted to flirt with them in Darija during our online chats. Should you desire to impress your Tinder match with Darija slang that you learned from a low-budget Moroccan miniseries filmed in 2013, I advise you to wait until the first date if you can.
“Through Tinder and the like, Moroccan women can choose how and whom they date with far more autonomy.”
News agencies have reported on other interesting developments tied to online dating in Morocco. Le Monde noted that, through Tinder and the like, Moroccan women can choose how and whom they date with far more autonomy. Morocco World News, meanwhile, has observed that Tinder is outdoing traditional matchmakers: one interviewee framed the online dating service as “a great and easy way to stumble on someone that you couldn’t approach in real life.”
My experience with online dating abroad ends with Morocco, but the practice has spread to the most conservative corners of the Arab world. Saudis have exploited Tinder not only to search for relationships but also to facilitate more casual encounters, bringing hookup culture to a country that has often forbidden this type of romance and limited women’s rights.
Homegrown alternatives to these Western mobile apps are emerging across the Arab world. The Beirut-based online dating service Matchmallows has billed itself as the Middle East’s answer to Tinder, hoping to differentiate itself by emphasizing matchmaking based on emotional intimacy instead of physical attractiveness. Scene Arabia compiled a list of nine mobile apps dedicated to online dating in the Middle East, including several for Muslims, such as Salaam Swipe.
Many countries in the region have outlawed premarital sex and marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.
For all these advances, online dating in the Arab world can come with plenty of challenges and risks. Many countries in the region have outlawed premarital sex and marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men, forcing some couples to conduct their relationships in secret.
For the LGBTQ community, online dating services can represent a matter of life and death. This year, a Moroccan Instagram personality urged her followers to download the gay online dating service Grindr, find the profiles of Moroccan men, and out them to their families. The campaign revealed the identities of 50 to 100 gay men in Morocco, which has long considered homosexuality a crime. In Egypt, the secret police surf mobile apps such as Grinder and Tinder to arrest gay men. Grinder even issued a warning about the practice for Egyptian users.
Online dating services provided me an opportunity to engage with a different side of Morocco’s culture and society, yet the Grindr scandal speaks to the obstacles that youth in the kingdom and the rest of the Arab world face. Tinder and its Middle Eastern competitors have opened the doors to a new age of romance. Much, however, still has to change for online dating to take root.