Tuesday, October 6, 2009

About Marriage and Divorce in the Arab World

Four posts about related questions dealing with marriage and divorce in today’s Arab societies (links to the original ones in French).

In the first one, mention was made to Urîdu hâlan (I want a solution), a movie with (and largely thanks to) Faten Hamama. An interesting example of an art production which has had a real impact on the Egyptian society. After years of discussions, the Egyptian law finally gave the women the right – under certain circumstances – to divorce their husband.

Today’s Egyptian women publicly speak not only of their legal right to divorce but of the personal satisfaction they may find living as single, after a divorce or ever-postponing a socially expected marriage. Examples of this new attitude may be found in the writings of two bloggers whose writing have been published in books. In both cases, the colloquial form for “I want”, in Ghada Abdelal’s (غادة عبد العال) I want to get married (عايزة اتجوز) and Mahasen Saber’s (محاسن صابر) I want to get divorced (عايزة اطلق) is a clear reference to the classical verbal form used by Faten Hamama’s point, thirteen years ago.

The second post was about the rising number of unmarried young people (9 millions adult above 35 years in Egypt for instance). The cost of the wedding ceremony may explain this situation, probably connected to the growing phenomenon of sexual harassment in Cairo streets and which is exploited by all sorts of crooks using internet phishing sites. It is also linked to the rising number of non-official unions with the resulting issue of thousands of children born from such unions without any legal status as women does not have the right to declare a birth according to the actual Egyptian law. Considering the great number of students who are engaged in such “unlegal” unions (almost 20% of them according to various studies), one has to think that the sexual practices of many young Arabs are undergoing a radical transformation.

An evolution which is probably conformed by the rising number of divorces in many Arab countries (data in the original post in French from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Arab Emirates and even Gaza. Even in this last case, local analysts emphasize the fact that economical difficulties only cannot explain the breaking of so many unions – and the rising number of unmarried young people. On the contrary, for a growing number of young Arabs, the need to reach personal/individual fulfilment probably becomes more important that the necessity to obey the social requirement of a “family arranged” marriage.

Nonetheless, local traditions remain very strong in many areas, as it is the case with child marriage. Here again (see last post), the increasing denunciation of this phenomenon in the Arab press can be interpreted as the sign of a change. Even if too publicized stories in the Western media like the one of the little Nojood Ali in Yemen (among Glamour magazine “women of the year” !!!”) seem to show the contrary, recent public discussions and legal decisions in Yemen Saudi Arabia or even Morocco are a clear indication that sexual habits, representations and practices in the Arab world are changing.

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