Society / Egypte
The Egypt of impossible weddings
Michaela De Marco - 05/10/2009
About 5 million young Egyptians would like to get married but they cannot. A stipend of at least one thousand pounds is needed to provide for a family and it takes years for a young man to reach the necessary sum to organise a wedding. Actually, men are in charge of nearly all expenses. The poorer classes spend approximately 30 thousand pounds while the middle classes spend 150 thousand: the sum includes the shabka (the gold that a man should offer the woman), the reception and the apartment.
Il matrimonio di Haifa Wahabi
However, the most insidious difficulty that young people have to face is the acquisition of an apartment. In fact, property prices continue to increase. “A wahesh (horrible) apartment in a poor area costs minimum 50 thousand Egyptian pounds while one has to spend at least 120 thousand for a decent apartment”, explains Adel. There are two forms of payment: one can either pay the entire amount or else sign a “contract”, pay an initial quote (15/30 thousand pounds depending on the apartment’s price) and then pay an average sum of 400 pounds a month. The second type of payment is the most “common” one even though the most unsuitable as after 60 years, one has to give the apartment back to its original owner. Evidently, these amounts are prohibitive to the overwhelming majority of young Egyptians. In the countryside everything costs less but there is no work. Even though young people move to cities they end up without a job.
According to the government’s estimates, this year, the rate of unemployment is 9%. The International Bank estimates 22% instead. The figures include most graduates and PhD students.
Job-hunting has triggered the most pervert mechanisms. Last month, Adel’s father came to Cairo to give 10 thousand pounds to a statesman so that he’ll look for a job for his son for a stipend of at least 1000 pounds. Politicians have a lot of contacts. More and more people offer money to members of Parliament in exchange of jobs for their children.
A month ago, even a daily Egyptian newspaper, the independent Mars el Youm , denounced labour “black market”. There is even a “price list”: prices vary from 100 thousand (for a job in the police force) to 6 thousand pounds (for a clerk posting with a 2/3 year contract). “You pay, and for a few months, they try to find you a job. If they don’t manage malesh (it doesn’t matter), Adel shrugs his shoulders and returns to his tea.
“Certain members of the opposition parties are in the business even if they represent only a minority”, explains a university lecturer and he adds: “On the contrary, the Muslim Brotherhood, the only authentic mass movement of the Opposition, have a different strategy: they don’t ask for money but for an unconditional support. That way, they are more credible in the eyes of the Egyptians and have inserted their followers in every place (hospitals, schools, enterprises, factories and ministries)”.
However, those who do not want to follow the Muslim brotherhood and neither pay for a job risk to remain on the streets. In February, Gamal Zahran, an independent member of Parliament and university professor, has presented to the Parliament a report which demonstrates that the rate of unemployment exceeds 30% and that in the past 4 years, 12 thousand young people have committed suicide because they couldn’t find a job. “This is why crime has increased”, notes Adel and he adds: “In Egypt, the more people become religious, the more the number of criminals increases. Isn’t it a fascinating paradox?” He has his own theory: “They pray a lot just to buffer the guilt”. His fellow speaks in defence of the growing religious sentiment: “In poverty, young people can fall into drugs or an excessive sexual promiscuity. This profound religiosity, not surprisingly supported by the government, keeps young people attached to certain values”.
After having finished his third mint tea, Adel smiles and brings back his thoughts to Romeo and Juliet. He asks: “According to you, before getting married to Romeo, did Juliet ask him the amount of his stipend?” and his fellow replies: “Adel, Juliet knew that even if Romeo came from a rival family, it was probably richer than hers”.
Michaela de Marco
Translated by Elizabeth Grech
Translated by Elizabeth Grech