Saudi couple forced to divorce can stay married

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A Saudi couple forced to divorce on the grounds they were not from equal tribal backgrounds has been reunited by a new court created as part of judicial reforms.

The marriage of Mansour al-Timani and his wife Fatima Azzaz was annulled after Azzaz's half brothers persuaded judges at a first instance court in 2006 that Timani's tribal background was not prestigious enough for his wife's family.

The case drew international criticism from human rights groups, but a new cassation court, created under reforms instituted by King Abdullah, has said the couple may be reunited.

"Our lawyer told us that the Supreme Court overturned the previous ruling on Wednesday," Timani told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.

"We still can't believe this happened. May God give King Abdullah a long life since it was he who set up this court."

The couple is waiting for the ruling to be enacted, Timani said. Their lawyer, Ahmad al-Sudairi, said it would take two days for it to be implemented.

Officials at the court could not be reached for comment.

"I hope that with this ruling, our authorities will close once and for all this issue of inequal tribal backgrounds. Islam does not allow it," Timani added.

Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and home to Islam's holiest sites, imposes a strict version of mainstream Sunni Islam. The ruling Al Saud family accords the religious establishment wide powers in the justice system and education.