The Egypt of impossible weddings | Michaela De Marco
The Egypt of impossible weddings Print
Michaela De Marco   
The Egypt of impossible weddings | Michaela De Marco"Romeo and Juliet do not live in Egypt", begins Adel, while observing his half empty glass in a suggestive popular coffee shop, hidden in one of those silent straight blind alleys of the deafening Egyptian capital. He sips his mint smelling tea while narrating his umpteenth love story gone to pieces. Aisha seemed to be in love: she used to call him several times daily, she used to put on acts of jealousy and to harass him with amorous SMSes. She disappeared when he revealed to her his financial status. Adel is a researcher in juridical sciences and works as a lawyer in a law firm, 8 hours a day for 500 Egyptian pounds a month (approximately 70 Euros). Many others are like him. “Deep down she’s right, feelings are not everything. Love doesn’t turn into food for our children”. She could work and contribute to expenses but few are the Egyptian women who are ready to do that. “If they work, they do it to be able to afford a few ‘whims’. However they also look for someone who gives them a high level life style: they watch television and desire all that commercials can offer”. In the past, rich and wealthy men used to marry poor women. Today this has become rare. From what he remembers, he never heard of rich women who, out of love, marry poorer men. The families, whose advice is still determining in Egypt, wouldn’t let that happen but even the women themselves wouldn’t find it appropriate. “Besides”, explains Adel: “a real man would never accept to be provided for by a woman”. The stories of Sara and Muhammad, his dear friends, come to his mind. Muhammad has left the lady of whom he was in love because she was richer than him. She loved him and her father had managed to find him a good job. He had proudly refused and felt so humiliated that he left her: “She deserved better. Women fall in love continuously. A man only loves once in his lifetime, I have never felt certain emotions again.” On the other hand, Sara has lost the man of her life at sea while he was pursuing the European mirage. He had taken on board in Libya with the hope of finding a job in Italy to earn the necessary amount of money to marry her. Sara has cried for a few months and then, fortunately she has fallen in love again. “Maybe Muhammad is right”, comments Adel.

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.

The Egypt of impossible weddings | Michaela De Marco
Il matrimonio di Haifa Wahabi
The Egyptians spend between 1000 and 6000 pounds for a wedding reception. Nothing to do with the big Italian ceremonies: Egyptian receptions are a bit more joyful with a singer, a plate of sweets and a few Pepsis. In the working-class areas, weddings are celebrated on the threshold, among a puff of shisha smoke, coloured by Christmas lights everywhere; the atmosphere is joyous and everyone can join in to party. On the other hand, high-class people spend millions to be in tune with the one thousand and one nights. The wedding of Haifa Wahabi, a popular Lebanese singer and the Egyptian businessman, Ahmad Abu Ashima, cost indeed 9 million dollars. It was a scandal. The figure made the Egyptian president Muhammad Hosni Mubarak shudder. He publicly accused this squandering considering it as a slap to poverty.

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
(05/10/2009)