Poverty Leads to Marriage Crisis in Egypt

(Photo courtesy of www.elsoar.com)

Ahmed Saad, 32, a driver at a company in Egypt, has been struggling for 10 years to marry the love of his life, only until an older man with more money comes along and marries her overnight. Poverty in Egypt has lead to several problematic social issues, but marriage crisis has been a struggle among many Egyptian men who have been refused over and over again for “not having enough money” to secure a well-rounded life for a woman. Saad, for example, explains that he has been with Nour for almost 10 years, and has been working as a driver, with an EGP 800 salary in order to get married, but that wasn’t enough for Nour's family. “I found her calling me one night, telling me she’s going to get married and that her family asked her to stop talking to me,” said Saad. Can you imagine working hard for 10 hours every single day for someone, and then getting betrayed overnight for something you cannot change?

Saad also said that he was employed several times earlier, but this is the only “decent” job that maintained him with a good enough salary. “Even though I had a lot of opportunities to get involved in illegal activities, such as selling drugs, which would have deployed me with more money, I refused,” Saad said, laughing with his friends who have started placing bets on who will be the first among to tie the knot. Many others, like Saad, have been refused several times and have been struggling to get married due to the demanding families in Egypt.

According to NBC News in 2006, a survey found marriage costs had increased 25 percent for those living below the poverty line. Traditionally, approximately two-thirds of total marriages costs are covered by the groom and his family in Egypt. Those costs go far beyond the cost of the actual wedding: they include the couple’s housing, jewelry for the bride, and electronic appliances like TVs and refrigerators.

Saad, believes that his salary is enough compared to some of the men from his community, but he still believes it is not enough for him to start a family, take care of a woman, and take care of upcoming children of his own. Rania Salem, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies the consequences of high marriage costs in Egypt, said that most of the time, a groom usually has to save his entire earnings for about three and a half years to finance his share of costs during the marital process, while the average bride has to save for only six months for hers. But given the lack of well-paid jobs now, men have to wait longer, which eventually leads to women waiting longer as well.

For women in particular, the process can be frustratingly passive, since singlehood beyond a certain age is a ticket to social stigmatization. “It's hard to find a man my family will say yes to, especially in our community,” said Hoda Mohamed, a 26-year-old maid who lives in Ard El Lewa (a low-class neighborhood in Cairo). Hoda said that where she lives, she isn’t considered a woman unless she gets married, and if a girl isn’t married by her late twenties, people would think that something is wrong with her. “The thing is, the man I fell in love with cannot afford to get married now, and if I don’t get married soon, my parents will force me to marry an older man who has more money than him,” said Hoda. Her family has started accumulating her “gehaz,” a trousseau consisting of kitchenware and linens for her marital home, and she’s afraid she wouldn’t be able to get married to the man she loves. She added that the man she wants to marry has been working as a janitor and has tried searching for another job that would provide him with a better salary, but he couldn’t find anything.

Until these societal and economic systems are changed, Egyptians who have been waiting for social justice and dignity will remain in societal limbo unable to command their own destinies.

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