Saturday, July 17, 2004

Stranger in a Strange Land

One of the most common questions that is posed to me is from women who are planning or thinking of marrying Egyptian men. Will they be accepted by their husbands' families? Can they work? An infinite variety of questions...

To give a fairly unsentimental view of marriage with an Egyptian, I must note that many Egyptian men would like to marry a foreigner to get a foreign passport. One can hardly blame them, since travel on an Egyptian passport is incredibly difficult these days, and there still is the old idea that somehow life outside of Egypt is better. Another reason to marry a non-Egyptian woman has to be the current culture of marriage in Egypt. When an Egyptian woman marries, she will move into a fully furnished house or apartment and she is felt to be assured of her security. The process by which a young man gets to know his future bride is largely concerned with proving his ability to provide for his wife in the appropriate manner. When I married my late husband in Canada, we paid for our own wedding and were living in an apartment that we were both gradually furnishing from IKEA and other low budget shops. I certainly never considered his earning power in the equation. Marriage for us was a partnership that was embarking on an unknown journey...this willingness to undertake a life together as partners is appreciated by many Egyptian men.

Most Egyptian mothers are not keen on having their sons marry non-Egyptian women. The resistance initially can be quite strong, but after time they can become used to having a foreign daughter-in-law. I found that the best way of getting along with my mother-in-law was to basically let her do whatever she liked when she was in my home and to agree with her in her own home. Avoided a lot of problems that way. She and I did have disagreements about childrearing since I didn't allow my kids to eat sugar in their food until they were old enough to start buying the garbage, and I didn't feel that sweet tea was an appropriate drink for an infant. I also was more strict about my children's behaviour than most Egyptian mothers that I knew. My kids went to bed at a reasonable hour and learned very early that throwing a fit over something was the fastest way to lose an argument. Years later, she admitted that she'd thought that I was nuts but the results were very good. My father-in-law and brothers-in-law all seemed quite in favour of our marriage.

I thought that my relationship to my husband's family was very good until he died. At that point, I found otherwise. Once my husband was gone, I reverted to my state of "foreigner" and they were quite upset that I didn't leave Egypt after his death. Part of this has to do with inheritance laws in Egypt and I would have to emphasize the importance of understanding the laws that could affect any marriage between Egyptians and foreigners. For example, an Egyptian woman who marries a non-Egyptian may not pass on her citizenship to her children, although this may change sometime in the future. If a non-Muslim marries a Muslim, it is extremely important for the family to sort out the religious basis of the family in order to deal with inheritance in the case of death. Bad relations are not always the case after the death of the husband, but they are unfortunately very common.

My best advice is to sit with your prospective partner and examine carefully the legal aspects of the marriage. Egyptian marriages have wedding contracts in which the rights of the partners are spelled out. Find out about these contracts. Discuss the issues of inheritance and safeguarding the security of the wife. Many men don't like to think about these things and are quite reluctant. But they are very important.

And then, may you live happily ever after....

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting view point

Anonymous said...

I have just started my own blog and I came across your one. Firstly I am sorry to hear of your husband passing away. Did you become muslim? I am guessing that your husband was a muslim... I know I might be wrong as there are Christian Egyptians too from what I recall. I have a friend who is Egyptian.

modscientist said...

I have a friend who is from India and things seem much the same there as in Egypt. She is currently in the US as a Master's student. She has yet to get married, and according to her family at 24 she is quickly of coming age to be a wife. She misses her family dearly, but refuses to visit until she has finished her PhD. for fear that she will be married on her next visit. She wants someone who will accept her after she has finished her PhD., otherwise they may never allow her to obtain it after marriage. Now that she has lived in the US she seems more reluctant to an arranged marriage and doesn't like that their culture forces you to marry someone who you parents choose. But, if she doesn't she will be disowned? Why does it have to be this way?

Kaalia said...

Would love to come visit Egypt! You have a great blog here, I read it very often!

Pleae check mine out if you get the time to :)

Banjo Jones said...

Interesting blog.

Haven't read your archives, but am curious what you saw, heard or felt following that terrorist attack on tourists at one of the pyramids several years ago.

dafAF said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
charoly said...

oh jezzz what a comment, just before mine, it sounds like written by a monster instead of a human... anyway, so what are you going to do now? I heard you when you say once your husband passed away everything changes, that happens almost in every relationship anywhere... but are you open to meet someone else over there? I believe it must be harder because your husband was a foreigner when you met him, an outsider too, just keep writing! (please)

Anonymous said...

My best friend fell in love with a married Egptian man, they just built their love through internet. My friend went to vist him a few months ago, the man told her that she must get married with him legally before they stayed overnight, or the man would be punished by the government. Is it true?
It seems that the man loves my friend very much and immediately get divorce with his wife, even they had a lovely daughter already, he told my friend that his wife only loves money so it doesn't matter for her.
I'm so worry about my friend, she insists that he is a good man, but I wonder.....and worry.... Can somebody lives in Egypt give her some advise or comment???

Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous who wrote the last letter,
whether it is your friend or you, I think the man is not honest but who cares. I think your friend should be wise enough to advise him, for the sake of the "lovely" daughter, to return to his "money-loving" wife.
There is no law that punishes a man who sleeps with a woman, except the religious laws; if caught sleeping together, the man is just a witness and the woman is accused of prostitution; otherwise there is no other legal truth in what the man is saying. He may though be charged for harrassing a tourist... but who will go to his apartment??

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot, my name is Ashley, and it really happened in my best friend, not me. I have tried my best to convince my best friend but it seems that she is so deeply in love with that Egptian, she is my best friend and now she's nearly to give up all the things here (we are Chinese living in HK), and planning to go married with that guy, actually, she registered with him already when she went there last time.
I agreed with your comment, but my friend did not listen to me. I just want to find out if the man is good or not, are you Egptian or living in Egptian? Do you familiar with Egptian law? What will be the legal responsibility of her, as she registered with the guy already.
I just want to help her, but I'm not familiar with Egypt, I just sense that something abnormal to that man, but I don't know if an Egyptian is like that, or maybe he is really a good guy, but the culture is so different...
Can somebody help?

Wondering said...

I am wondering if one can marry a very strong muslim man from Egypt and not be muslim and not want to be muslim?

Anonymous said...

To Wondering who asked if someone can get married to a strong Muslim. Yes, a non-muslim can marry a muslim without being a muslim or even intending to be a muslim. Islam doesn't stop the Muslim man from marrying a Non-Muslim woman and doesn't ask the Non-Muslim wife to become a Muslim, and accordingly if the man is a true Muslim, he doesn't even have the right to ask his wife to become a Muslim. He can only invite her to read about Islam and to become a Muslim if she would love to. By the way, I'm an Egyptian Muslim living in Egypt.

I want to ask one question for all western people reading this; Why do so many people in US & Europe hate Islam & Muslims? This question is really killing me and I'm really desperate for an answer! I went to the US twice, and you can never imagine how bad and rude (sorry for using such a word!) people were dealing with me only for being a Muslim, although I did nothing bad to any of them!!!

Anyway, thanks for opening that discussion and keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Someone asked why people in the west hate Islam? We don't and I certainly do not...I respect any man or woman who loves God. Anyone who thinks that the west hates Islam should go and openly talk to a westerner and find out what the individual thinks....Don't listen to others, give people the chance to shape you're personal opinion! Then you can be sure it's an opinion you can trust!

Anonymous said...

Hello there. I'm from malaysia. I don't know if you're gonna read this but I'm gonna give it a shot anyway. currently, I'm in a so-called complicated relationship with an Egyptian guy. I'm a Christian by the way, and this makes it harder to be with him, coz well, my family would 'kill' me if they know bout him. No offense to anyone. I really wanna spend my life with him but somehow it's complicated. Can you help me?

Melissa said...

Hey: I just got engaged to an Egyptian this past weekend. He and I will be married next March or April, 2007. His family has been quite accepting of me so far. I, too, am curious - did you convert to Islam (if he was Muslim)? If not, was religion a major issue before and after you married? Any other advice to share?

mexican_banana said...

hi: im 17 years old and an egyptian 21 year old man has proposed to me. i want to wait till im out of college to marry him. im a mexican girl with christian faith. he said that it is easier if i covert to islam faith and marry him that it will be eaiser to marry him. i need some help with this problem . please help me i love him. can u help?

Maryanne said...

The issue of religion is not really one of the most important issues in a marriage to my way of thinking but it can signal problems to come. Basically, Islam does not require that a Christian wife convert to Islam, so there is no religious need to convert. LEGALLY, however, it is another story. If the Muslim husband of a family that includes a Christian wife dies, the wife has no right to custody of the children...even if she is Muslim the parents of the husband have the first right to custody of the children (and coincidentally the control of any assets that they inherit), as I learned when my husband died. Yes, I converted to Islam and even made it official with papers from Al Azhar and it was done this way for legal issues, as my husband had a heart attack a month after we moved to Egypt and this made him aware of the precariousness of my position legally. In terms of actual religion, I have always believed that God doesn't bother to read the labels, while a lot of attention is paid to the life that one actually lives. I was more comfortable being labeled a Muslim than I was a Christian because Islam doesn't rely on a lot of middlemen to tell people what they are supposed to do. People keep putting those middlemen there because there are people who simply want to be told, but one can be a perfectly good Muslim by living a moral life and having read the Quran. Since my religious beliefs from the beginning were based on a personal and immediate relationship with God/Allah, whatever one may choose as a word, Islam was a comfortable fit. I do, however, still get a kick out of Christmas carols and for years sang in a community choir whose major repetoire was Christian religious music in Latin. It's very pretty music.

My advice to women looking to marry an Egyptian man is simple. First be sure that your families are a good match. Are you really of the same social backgrounds? And be sure to meet the family first. An Egyptian farming family is NOT the same as a Kansas farming family, while it might be the same as a Mexican farming family. Remember that everything your prospective husband knows of what a wife and mother is (which will be your roles in his eyes) comes from his experience with his mother.

Mexican Banana, as a mother I have to say that seventeen is way too young to marry in this world or to take the kinds of decisions that your friend is asking you to take. Take your time, don't rush things. Finish your education because you are going to need it. Most middle class/upper middle class families in Egypt are two income families....and there are no certainties or guarantees in this life other than the fact that none of us will make it out alive.

Egyptian husbands are fun, loving and generous, but very, very high maintenance. It may be a good match and it might not be.

Travelling rat said...

Love this site...what do u mean pls re Egyptian husbands being very very high maintenance? thanking you...

Maryanne said...

High maintenance means that they expect and respond to a lot of attention. They want to feel that they are the centre of your life, even if intellectually they understand that they aren't. The idea of marriage as a partnership is not really so strong here; it's more a case of the husband playing a leading role and you are a supporting role.

Anonymous said...

8 months ago i married an Egyptian man. Everything has been going well we were planning our lives together when last week his parents told him that he had to marry his cousin. He told them that he was already married to me, but they wont accept it.He has told me everything he was so upset he could hardly talk to me. We have been trying to work things out and we are still planing to live together but he has to go through with it his parents will disown him. He dosen't live there and only visits 2-3 times a year. once he does this he never wants to see this woman again. i feel very confused but i love him and he loves me we don't know what to do.

Maryanne said...

Your husband has been put in a very delicate position, and I've heard of other families doing similar things. You should really point out to him that despite the fact that (I'm assuming that he's Muslim) he may be allowed by religion to have more than one wife, if you two are living in Europe or North America, his having more than one wife is a legal issue. If someone can prove that he is married to another woman in Egypt, he can be prosecuted for bigamy, which I would imagine neither of you want to have happen. If he is resident in your country but doesn't have citizenship yet, this can keep him from ever getting it and/or cause him to be deported. It isn't so easy as returning to Egypt to marry this woman to please his family and then never seeing her again. His family is asking him to break the law and could be completely jeopardising his future in his new country. Sometimes being disowned is the lesser of two evils.

Anonymous said...

This has been a very big shock for me and has upset my husband a lot. He was truthfull with me he has told me everything about it and he did give me the choice to just walk away although that wasnt what he wanted me to do. We had always pland to live in Egypt. We do love each other and i have said i will try to make this work but it is so hard i really don't know what to do.

Anonymous said...

Hi....I went to Egypt to be with the my fiance as he was deported from the US. Note....He did not committ any crime only he didn't report the the US Embassy when he returned to Cairo because of his fathers death. He stayed four years then came back to the US only to have all his documents taken from him and that was ten years ago....much more details but anyway after he was deported I went to Cairo several times...stayed one month came home(US) went again and then went the third time as I had gorren all the legal papers in order to marry him. Well as of May 2007 we found out at the American Embassy in Cairo that NO FOREIGNER" can marry any Egyptian man in Egypt....Its a new law and from the US not Egypt. We were told at the American Embassy that the Egyptian government was trying hard to change the law. So if you want to get married to any Egyptian man you have to travel to Cyprus to do so.....Just thought anyone who is in my position would want to know this updated information......

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

What an extraordinary rule, if it is real. And just how would the US government propose to enforce such a law outside of the US? I'd want to check into this thoroughly, I think. Do you need the US embassy's approval to marry someone abroad? I hardly think that it is anyone's business. And if a non-Egyptian woman and an Egyptian man are to be married anywhere other than Egypt, the marriage still has to be registered with the Egyptian government. Why wouldn't you have to ok it with the US embassy in Nicosia? And why would they agree if the embassy in Cairo wouldn't? Need to get more information on that one.

Anonymous said...

I'm planning to get married to my Egyptian Muslim boyfriend in Egypt. However i'm not an Egyptian and wanted to know about the procedure of marrying one. I am also not phisically in Egypt and would like to settle there after the wedding.Can you tell me whom should i refer to about the procedure and the visa and how long does it usually take before we can acutally get married. The major problem is that I will not be in Egypt until its time for the ceremony because of my work schedule. Pls pls help me..

Anonymous said...

I know this comment is a bit late for this discussion but I would like to comment that Egypt, India, China...etc. have a very strongly knitted culture and heritage battered, weathered and effected only very slowly. In Egypt, Social pressure can reach an extent that just blows out of proportion in magnitude. Even though this is slowly going milder and being re-knitted over recent years, yet it will still take years to dissolve for acceptance of non-conformity with the majority. For example parental blessing is intertwined with unquestioned obedience even if your 40 yrs old. Islam is being used as a natural umbrella for a lot of societal issues, while in reality Islam has nothing to do with it. There are always exceptions.
On a separate note, My father and mother are Egyptian. When my father passed away over 20 years ago, my father's family, as in my uncles, gave my mother "foreigner status" and it was in a way related to inheritance. You will always find both sides of the spectrum. I am an Egyptian muslim, 36, who has lived both in Egypt and abroad.

A final separate comment, to confirm, converting to Islam is not required. It is actually viewed as negative, but that is only realised by those who read through Islam and try to understand. The reasoning is simple really: you have an argument one day, you lose your temper and then what? religion is religion and it is the relation between a person and God. other creatures human or not do not have the right credentials nor right to judge you. You do however need to be aware that when marrying a muslim man in general, he will have the obligation to settle children religion to Islam. It is part of the package so you need to know that and settle it before marrying. though rare to find, but yes there are families who managed to balance all that out and marriages that lasted a life time peacefully. it needs a lot of hard work and a lot of communication amongst a couple. It is not easy. For converting to Islam being an easier solution is more like tricking yourself for the sake of social conformity and acceptance. There is nothing devious here. It just blows down to the man feeling the amount of social pressure that will be unleashed from his parents, and most people that he knows. And yes it does get magnified, justified or not. In my opinion, if someone loves you, while you were christian, then he already accepted you the way you are. YOu will both agree to change shape may be in to have a happier life, but not content of character. I hope this helps in any way.

justme said...

to the person who asked 'why do westerners hate muslims'....in short, since the 9/11 bombings etc the media have had a field day day. instead of stating 3 men were arrested they will state 3 muslim men, but it if they were christian men they would not say 3 christian men in their article it would just read 3 men. people are ignorant, they jump to conclusions and stick to that frame of mind. people will not go out and educate themselves on what the muslim religion is about they are are quite happy to retain the information via the media....and believe it!

i met an egyptian man 5 weeks a go. he wants me to go over and meet his family. they know about me and his best friend has invited me to his wedding. the thing is, talk of marriage etc so soon is kind of scary. he says he does not want to come to england to live and wants me there. i can not leave my daughter and said if it happens he is to come here. he has agreed but only until she is married. he is so lovely. good looking. funny. a bit uptight sometimes but all this talk so soon makes it seem a bit unreal. he loves egypt, so i can't see him wanting a visa as he says england is too expensive.last night he was crying, telling me he felt stupid because he's told me his feelings and they aren't given back and that he does not know if he has does the right thing choosing me because all he can do is wait for me to choose. what do i do. is he genuine. i'd like to think he is. someone please.......... help because everything i read is all horror stories and i really don't want it to be as he is the first man i've been really(the whole being of him) attracted in 6 years.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the sharing. Me and my Egyptian boyfriend plan to marry after I finished my graduate study next year. Both of us are students in Taiwan and he asked me whether I can leave my country for him. Since both of us are Moslems so religion is not the issue. The problem is, he is quite hesitant if I will be unhappy in Egypt after marriage. I mean, about the culture, family life, living, environment, etc. Especially because he lives in country side and he has low salary. He always repeat that I don't deserve to leave my country for him and this make me quite sad. I dont know what else I have to say to convince him. Do you have any suggestion ?

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

It may be difficult financially, but my strongest recommendation is to find a way to go and visit before you make your final decision. Life in the countryside can be hard and if you find yourself living with your husband's family, that can make it much harder if you don't happen to get along with them. I hate to say it but he may be right. Any chance of him staying in Taiwan?

Ana said...

Dear Maryanne, thanks for your reply. Actually he has already permanent job in Egypt (government job) and took vacation from his job to get a degree from Taiwan. Eventhough he often tell me that live in country such as Taiwan is better compare to Egypt, deep down I know that he loves Egypt too much. So I think it is difficult for him to leave his country.
Actually he is currently built his own apartment now and by the time I graduate it will complete. Once he introduced me also to his younger sister by internet messenger and we still befriend until now. Basically, he is too worry about whether I will be happy with him if we are married. Until last month, he said I better to give up to marry him since he is too worry to take risks in marying foreigner. But then he back his word and telling me to think about this deeply over and over again.
By the way, I really like your article. Surely I will share this with him.

Kay said...

hi maryanne.. im a 30 yr old msian woman. last year i joined an oil and gas company in kuala lumpur whereby i met this 25 years old Moslem man. he is a wonderful man. i felt in love with him and we share almost everything. after almost a year getting to know him, yesterday i found out he has already married for 3 years and has a 3 months old daughter. at first he has no intention to tell me when he passed me a half a size of A4 paper (pinkish with Arabic handwritten) which later he told me is his wedding certificate. im so devastating and he told me he doesn't like the idea of me getting involve with other men. i love him so much but i was depressed over him getting married. i don't want to be the other woman in his marriage but he told me he got the most sporting wife who currently lives in Egypt.

my main concern is that, is it necessary for an Egyptian man to bring his wedding certificates in order to work outside of Egypt? also, how i know if he is serious about our relationship? but one thing, he never introduce me yet to anyone of his friends or family.

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

Kay,
This is going to be a bitter pill but better for you in the end. Do the math. You've known him for a year and he has a three month old daughter. You ARE the second woman and will continue to be. Egyptian men are charming but you have to consider whether your choices are good for you. I wouldn't be surprised if the paper he showed you is his marriage document. Employers a road like to have those things. But frankly, if it isn't the actual marriage document, the message is even stronger that he has no interest in marriage. Lose this man.

Kay said...

Hi Maryanne,

I'm writing this time to inform you that he is teasing me actually as he saw my face changed the moment i hold the certificate. he wanted to see my reaction about it. it is actually his warrant that being approved by the military in order for him to be in/out to/from Egypt.
today, he told me today without me raising anything that the reason why he has yet to introduce myself to others due to perception from others on us. i understand that as we're from different religion, 5 years gap and come from different cultural background. but one thing, after 3 days together, he appreciated me for helping him and comfort him due to the death of his uncle.


yes indeed he is a charming person that hard for me to let go. after 3 days together with us, he started to be more caring and be himself. i glad to be his friend but i dont mind to be more than that. in short, we love to be with each other.

i just wanna know, how can i know if a guy is serious especially Egyptian guy? how can I tell him on my feelings?

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

You have asked the million dollar question about any relationship and if I could answer it I would never have to work again. Unfortunately, I can't.