Like young people all over the world, getting married
features high on the itinerary of most Egyptians in their twenties. But in most
countries, tying the knot isn�t the often-insurmountable
hurdle it is here due to a combination of poverty, antiquated customs and
meddling from family members.
Due to high unemployment, low wages and inflation, young men
are being forced to delay getting married often until their 30s or even 40s,
which means many girls of marriageable age are being left without a suitor.
Selma (not her real name), the 26-year-old daughter of an Alexandrian lawyer, a
bright and personable young woman, told me she fears being left on the shelf as
there are not enough young men around with the wherewithal to marry while older
men still seek brides in their late teens or early twenties.
This situation is driving many would be brides to seek a
potential partner on the Internet, which they often do without telling their
parents. The problem is the Net is infested with unscrupulous individuals who
use lies as their currency.
Just over a week ago, my husband received a call from a
friend who asked him to help his daughter�s Egyptian-American fianc� retrieve
his confiscated driving license from the police. My husband met up with the New
Yorker but became suspicious that he was already married when the 35-year-old
designer said he had no intention of taking his new bride to the US and was
caught out in a couple of blatant untruths as to his background.
Reluctant to see our friend�s daughter in trouble, we both
did some sleuthing and discovered that the man was 41-year-old, rather than 35
and had been married and divorced twice before in Egypt with one daughter per
marriage. Worse still, he lived with his wife and son in the US, who knew
nothing about his former marital life or his fianc�. Needless to say, when our
friend and his daughter had recovered from the shock, they were delighted to
have been saved from this Walter Mitty character, who, as it turned out the
girl had �met? on the Net.
Overly long engagements put further pressures on couples,
many of which split up before the wedding day. A case in point concerns Dina
(not her real name), a stunningly beautiful, educated and gentle young woman,
the only daughter of impoverished parents, who have lived in the same roof hut
throughout their lives.
Three years ago, Dina met her soul mate Mustapha (not his
real name) in college and within days he turned up at her home with his parents
to ask for her hand. Her mother and father were overjoyed. They had saved up
all their lives for this moment and spent a large part of their savings on a
lavish engagement party in a hotel.
This was surely a marriage made in heaven. Every time I saw
Dina with her beau she radiated. Both are serious young people committed to
their future together and determined to observe the proprieties demanded by the
society in which they live. Mustapha invested his savings in a small, unfinished
apartment with concrete walls and floors and no window pains.
Dina combined her studies with a part-time teaching position
and both poured every spare pound into the purchase of furniture and household
goods. Every chair represented a step closer to their goal of being together;
every plate became a treasure to be displayed to family and friends.
But three years on, the atmosphere has changed. Both sets of
prospective in-laws are no longer on speaking terms. They rowed too many times
over who should pay for what. Mustapha is fatigued and has lost much of his
initial enthusiasm. Dina became so focused on setting up house that she began
to nag Mustapha to work harder and save harder in order to buy that washing
machine or fridge on schedule. When I last spoke to her, she told me tearfully
that she had removed her engagement ring. They still don�t have the money for a
wedding. The hill is too high to climb and they�re both too exhausted to make
It�s a different story for the wealthy. I was recently
invited to the wedding of a neighbor�s daughter, a doctor. She was engaged for
two years to another doctor and, like Dina and Mustapha, they used the time to
create their dream home. But in this case, as soon as the strains of a long
engagement began to take their toll, their affluent parents got together and
decided to bring the wedding forward. As I write, they are honeymooning in
Malaysia and will return to a luxury apartment with a panoramic view of the
Nile and a weekend villa in the countryside gifted by the boy�s family. Who
said money couldn�t buy love?
It seems to me that the poor are victimized when it comes to
marriage. With rocketing property prices and rents a home is at a premium while
putting on a wedding ceremony for up to 200 guests is unrealistic for people,
whose average wage is between $50 and $400 a month.
Egyptians are deeply concerned about this problem with
reports of young men unable to afford a wife committing suicide.
Some charities and businessmen have organized mass weddings
to alleviate expenses for the less well off but many families are too proud to
take advantage of this charitable scheme.
Such difficulties have bolstered secret or �orfi� marriages,
whereby both parties sign an unofficial marriage contract, which can be torn up
and forgotten as though the union never happened. If a woman wants to legalize
this type of marriage, say, when a child comes along, it can often be a long
and costly process.
�Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage� go
the words of a 1950s song. Not so in Egypt where marriage is becoming an
increasing burden on budding young love. And, sad to say, even those who make
it to the ceremony are often faced with a lifetime of economic hardship and
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.