The Yemeni grooms sit expectantly inside a TV studio, waiting for their wedding parties to be broadcast live so that families and friends can join in the celebrations despite a coronavirus lockdown.
The pandemic has forced weddings to be scaled down or cancelled across the world but in the Yemeni capital Sanaa the traditional folk music and dancing have been beamed into people’s homes instead.
Well-wishers call into the satellite channel Alhawyah to offer their congratulations to the grooms, dressed in their finest clothes and with rifles propped up next to them and traditional daggers tucked into their belts.
As the number of coronavirus cases began to rise in war-ravaged Yemen, Alhawyah — Arabic for “identity” — began hosting wedding parties with the aim of reducing guest numbers and preventing the spread of the virus.
Participants are sprayed with disinfectant before entering the studio for the all-male gatherings, where a popular band performs.
Before the pandemic, weddings in Yemen were lively affairs that drew hundreds of guests — both men and women but separately in line with tribal tradition. The men spent the evening chewing qat, a mild narcotic that is a mainstay of Yemeni culture.
Presenter Abdulwahab Yahya said the idea of the show is “to keep the bridegrooms in good health and to help them enjoy their weddings despite coronavirus”.
“Instead of guests coming to wedding halls to greet the bridegrooms, they can phone and greet them during the two-hour show,” he said.
Osama al-Qaood spent months trying to organise his big day before opting for a televised event.
“Normal wedding gatherings will help spread the disease to neighbourhoods and communities. My real joy is to ensure a healthy society,” he told AFP.
Yemen is engulfed in a long war between Iranian-backed Huthi rebels, who control much of the north including Sanaa, and the government which is supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Five years of conflict have killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and created what the United Nations has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
UN agencies and humanitarian groups have warned that Yemen’s dilapidated health system will not be able to cope with a major outbreak of coronavirus.
Authorities have so far reported 967 cases including 257 deaths, but the real toll is feared to be much higher.
“I hoped that I would be able to organise a normal wedding where relatives and friends get together to celebrate,” said another of the grooms, Mohammed al-Rahoumi.
“But amid the spread of coronavirus, we came to the TV channel to receive greetings,” he told AFP.