Monday, November 26

Sabaya: When Women Discriminate Against Women!

This bomb exploded right in my face when I entered Forsoothsayer's blog. She received a forwaded e-mail advertising Hanan Turk's café. Warning: Don't read on if you have any heart condition or high blood pressure.

Plz forward to girls and women you know might be interested
At last a place where Muslim GIRLZ can hang out

Sabaya is a very nice place . .nice food and drinks . .no music played . .entrance is only allowed for femalesso it's is really safe for montaqebat . .
it's owned by Hanan Tork . . and Ahmad El Sakka's wife ( Mohammad El So3'ayyar's daughter ) . .so . . it's a cafe and hairdresser . . and also they sell mo7aggabat stuff . . praying carpets . . and gifts :))
Address: 6 Meet 3'amr street . . Midan Safir . . Masr El Gedida.if u know the street that has Cook Door / McDonald's / Oriflame /Smiley's ) . . it's behind McDonald's . . when u see McD . . go right. . then left . . Sabaya will be on ur left . . isA
Tel: 2240 2223 - 2240 2229
Advantges of SABAYA café
1- You have the freedom of taking your veil/neqab off.
2- Meeting muslim girls who are willing to get closer to Allah.
3- Increasing your 'so7ba sale7a circle'.
4-Getting the opportuinity of being inspired by real stories by the same girls you meet.
5-You can have parties.
6-Learn how to shun sin...since You won't be exposed to songs or movies JUST CARTOONS AND RELIGIOUS SHOWS.
7- Get to meet Hanan Turk. heheheheheheheheheheheh
8-Enjoy the feeling that you'r making everything which is not allowed outdoors and Allah won't be mad at you :D..

P.S. Attending sabaya will be very useful from both the life and religious prespective, since YOu will be helping in changing the wrong perceptions about both Neqabis/ Hegabis that were already inheritied ages ago. Help in renewing a new age of respectful, effective, lively , happy with their commitment to Islam :) EGYPTIAN LADIES.:) nOthing is impossible.. May Allah grant us His Mercy and sincerity

-- First please Don't invite Christian girls , because they aren'tallowed to the place.. Second inform all your friends that if the number of visitors increased remarkably in the coming year..inshAllah next year they may be able to open a branch in mohandesen or down town ..We ARE IN DIRE NEED OF A PLACE THAT CONTAINS US 'NEQABIS' OR 'HEGABIS' SO PLEASE THINK BEFORE U GO ANYOTHER CAFE ;)

That was the email published by Forsoothsayer. Then I read a post written by Sandmonkey who has asked a female co-worker to call this place and demand whether this was true. The café confirmed all the above information and added that enterance is only allowed to Hejabis and Niqabis (new terms which refer to women wearing veils or niqab). Both bloggers commented thoroughly on this ridiculous new business, so there is no need for me to say any more about it. I would rather try place this example where it belongs in the bigger picture.

The worst kind of discrimination that a woman faces is that which comes from another woman. As human nature goes, women are not all the same. Their inferior social, cultural and financial position, have caused them to split into two separate teams:

1- There are those who look at their current state and wonder why they have to put up with all the injustice and domination. Those could be: a) smart, talent females who were sick of all kinds of obstacles thrown into their way and the heavy pressure imposed on them which threatens to rob them off any advantages their skills allow; b) females who reject their local culture and are rebellious against oriental or conservative traditions; c) very conservative females who enjoy a strong character and who only wish for a limited margin of freedom where they can practice leadership (or let's say exercising their influence).

Women who belong to this team, with all its diversity, are pushing society forward. They all walk in the same direction. Some of them may stop after a few steps, some of them may go too far.. but they are all heading forward and they all desire a change which joins hands with the movement of history.

2- There are those who look at their current state and accept it. They don't feel there is anything wrong with being an inferior, because they were made to believe that this is the law of nature. Those could be: a) educated females who don't have any exceptional qualities or talents, and thus do not have the urge for achieving something on a large scale, being contented with their traditional roles; b) ignorant or semi-educated females who are oblivious of their rights or any alternatives better than what their local community dictates; c) religious extremists who believe that as females they should imitate the early women of faith and stand against all modern claims of liberation or independence.

Again, women who belong to the second team, with all its diversity, are pulling the whole society backwards. They all walk in the same direction. Some of them may stop after a few steps, some of them may go too far.. but they are all heading backwards and they are all against a change which joins hands with the movement of history.

[For those of you who are interested in a more general social analysis, the current scene as described above may appear to be having gaps. You may wish to include men and see where they stand. I tell you that women give birth to men. Even if they don't lead them, there is still an invisible umbilical cord tying them together. Therefore, men are also divided among those two teams, with some variation when it comes to motives and characteristics. Yet at the end, we will be looking at the same scene.]

Now, let me get back to my subject.. Women Against Women.. or call it women against themselves, if you like.. Those two teams (described above) are in constant interaction inside society. Each team affects and is in turn affected by the other. That is the law of nature which exists in all societies. However, what makes the difference between advanced and retarded societies is the quality of interaction taking place within a certain society. In order to measure that, we have to break down the factors which administrate the interaction in question.

Healthy social interactions, especially between opposing groups, have to be governed by tolerance, mutual respect, dialogue, flexibility and acceptance. I don't think you need to read any further to know the result, as there is no surprise involved. Of course when we put female interaction in our society to the test, we'll find out that none of those factors exist. Even when we can catch a rare glimpse of them, we find them practiced by a few individuals, who mainly belong to the first team (those moving forward). But those few incidences do not by any means reflect a general trend, or even that of a limited considerable group of people. And don't forget that the division of teams is not equal. In fact, today's Egypt is witnessing a rapid increase in the number of the second team (those moving backwards) at the expense of the first. This means that the force of those pulling backwards is much greater than the eager attempts of those pushing society forward. The imbalance in this equation along with the absence of a healthy interactive environment put us in a very critical situation. Mmmmmmmm.. I have to say that what takes place between those teams is not interaction at all. Calling it an interaction would be ridiculously false, for these two teams are basically having a clash.

I want to be as objective as you've always found me. Therefore, allow me to say that the case with Egyptian women is devastating! Many of those who are pro-change, in spite of being relatively open-minded and more flexible, find it very hard to live up to their ideals in practice. You can find them rejecting the others, or criticizing their beliefs, or addressing them from above, or making fun of their choices, or acting repulsively towards them, or insulting their brains. I don't understand it!.. This is totally against what they are calling for. How do you expect people to accept you when you are not even willing to view them as equals? How can you possibly convince them with the necessity of change? How is this going to serve your positive aims? I am against women staying at home. I want all women to join the workforce and take an active part in the development of their country. But I have to respect women who willingly chose not to work. I will do my best to present my argument, and if they still are not convinced, then I have to accept them as they are. What good will rejecting them do?

I know that most of you reading this are going like,"Hey, are you really saying that we are the bad guys here? It's all our fault now? We are the ones who have no tolerance?" Before you start throwing empty bottles or anything, let me tell you that I'm not saying that at all. I had to begin with you because you are the ones who are calling for change. Therefore, I can't stop expecting more from you. There should be more patience and a sincere desire for communicating with the Other. They have some excuse if they don't abide by the proper rules of interaction, but what excuse do you have?

It is evident that the major problem lies in the method followed by the second team in its reaction to the first. We're talking massive collision here. Not only don't they have respect for the others, but they also show it with open hostility. Where do I start?.. Shall I recount the details of how they always try to stain the image of free-thinkers and feminists? Or shall I talk about their insistence to summarize women into their physical bodies? Or shall I describe the way by which they associate ethics with clothes? Or shall I be brave enough to say that to them, basically all women who belong to the first team are morally inferior? I really don't want to go through those tragic facts. It is the worst way of rejection. No, it is worse than rejection itself. So.. let me stop here.

The conflict at hand would not be resolved out of its own. We can't wish for a miracle to make it disappear. Part of the solution lies in our hands. Let's create a healthy environment for interaction between those two wings, or else the results will be destructive for everybody. There is nothing wrong with being different. As a matter of fact, there should be difference for life to go on. Difference is an essential part of our existence. But when difference creates a thick wall that separates us and prevents us from having a healthy society, it becomes harmful. We can not wipe away difference from existence.. We can not throw all those who differ with us in the sea.. We have to learn to live together.. I am sorry to use "learn".. I would rather have used "remember", because we actually used to live together, and we actually used to support positive change and progress in spite of our differences. But, since we have lost the tools which enabled us to do this in the past, then we have to learn from the start and create new tools.

As women, we are all second-class. We all sip the bitterness of discrimination and inequality. It is such a shame that instead of joining hands to regain our human condition, we are allowing our differences to blindfold us and distract our efforts away from the main target. It is such a shame to turn against each other and seek to make more divisions. It is such a shame to see women practicing discrimination against other women. It is such a shame when we split into groups and form exclusive clubs. It is such a shame when women seek isolation from other women. And today I publish this pathetic example to ring a bell.. Is there anybody listening?

Thursday, November 22

The Wife's Boyfriend: Is He the Better Deal?

How does this sound?.. Awkward? Bizaar? Meaningless? Well, not to me. I'm pretty familiar with the concept. Heard it being justified over and over. Yes, there are wives who do have secret boyfriends. But they didn't mean to cheat. In fact, they think that those boyfriends help them go on with their marriages. They would never think of cheating. It's completely out of the question.

To start off, I want to make it clear that I am not making any moral judgements. Those women are all devoted wives who took the decision to stay on board of a sinking ship in the hope of saving whatever can saved. I won't betray the trust of those who confided in me and shared their stories. Yet, I feel obliged to talk about this subject for a number of reasons:

1. The several cases I knew of suggest that there are quite a number of wives who share the same secret.

2. All those wives are suffering an ethical dilemma that is threatening their lives, and which could have been easily avoided if they had read a post like that before slipping into the area where they are trapped now.

3. Women usually open up and talk about their problems after they grow beyond repair. They are being intimidated to express their pain by everybody around them. Families are so relieved once a girl is married off, they focus all their efforts on keeping their daughters inside the marriage. This causes them to refuse acknowledging that their daughters are having problems. They won't listen. They may tell them that all those feelings of frustration are imaginary, or caused by the evil eye. It is the devil that makes her imagine things. Similarly, friends would refrain from providing real support, thanks to the common female wisdom which says that complaining wives will always reconcile with their husbands making the friend who interfered in their problem be classified as jealous and wicked. Who can give sincere advice when their reputation is at risk?

4. Each of those wives thought that she was a unique case, unknowing that her frustration is actually shared by many others. If they had known that, they would have learned of better ways of coping with their frustration before it devours their hope.

5. Wives who ended up having double lives didn't ever plan for anything of that sort. What started as an innocent attempt to break away from depression, gradually turned into a serious situation. They are victims of inexperience and unrealistic assumptions.

6. None of those women can bring herself to see that what she is doing is cheating. Cheating seems to have a very narrow meaning in our culture. Some forms of cheating are even idealized by those who commit them. Like students who cheat in exams and think it is a good sign of cooperation. Those wives, as I said earlier, are under the illusion that what they are doing is helping them continue with their married lives. As long as the relationship doesn't involve anything sexual or indecent, then it can not be considered cheating. Those of them who didn't actually meet their boyfriends in person, don't consider this a relationship at all.

7. In many cases, the wife suspects that her husband is having an affair (or multiple affairs). This puts her conscience at ease somehow, as she believes that her innocent relationships can in no way be compared to his sins.

8. Those of them who are mothers claim that they are putting the kids' best interest before their own. If they were selfish enough, they would have asked for divorce, in which case the children will be the victims, they argue. So mainly, they prefer to have secret affairs instead of divorce!

Allow me to repeat that I am not passing any moral judegements. I place my honest opinion in the care of those who wish to face the reality of the situation, and for anyone who is actually involved in this kind of relationship or is about to get involved.

First of all, it is in my humble opinion that the extremely high social cost of divorce (which I discussed in my previous post) should be the first to blame if anyone wishes to place criminal charges. Society has made divorce (which is allowed by God in mercy of his mortal creations) become such a shameful stigma, that would stain any woman who happens to be unfortunate enough to actually hold the title of divorcee. As I explained earlier in my posts, our culture values appearances much more than it values the real ethics of people. If you appear good according to social measures, then you are good, no matter what you do in secret. As long as a person is clever enough to keep secrets hidden from everybody, then he/she has nothing to worry about. On the other hand, if you are the best person that could ever be, yet you fail to maintain the accepted appearance, then you are in a position to be questioned by others, who tend to attach the worst explanation to anything that won't appeal to them. What if you carry a label that generates all kinds of negative responses from society? Imagine if you move around with a sign sticking to your chest saying "DIVORCED WOMAN"! This does not need any kind of effort from others to put you in the black list. You skip the questioning phase to be automatically delivered into the social waste basket. Nobody cares to know any background details. It doesn't mean anything if you were a victim in a miserable marriage. It doesn't make a difference if you are a surviver of the marital hallocauste. You carry the label. You have a criminal record. You are evil by default. You are guilty by nature.

Who wants to step into this fire? Hey, welcome tough woman! Show us your guts! You're nobody's friend. You're everybody's ex-friend. You scare the women away. You invite male scum who invite themselves to take their chances. You are avoided by married couples. You can't be seen anywhere in public. You are suspicious. You never get invited over. You can't expect good wills from anyone who comes near you. You're harmful bacteria.. and everybody fears infection.

If this is not intimidating, please tell me. We crucify our divorced women in public. Human cannibals eat their flesh alive. What do you expect? Honesty? Moral values? Courage? Truth?.. What? This society deserves nothing else than its own nature. Double faces, double values, double standards, double lives, and LIES, LIES, LIES. A society that lies to itself can expect no more or wish for no more. Exceptions will exist at their own risk. But if you are a true daughter of this society, you have well absorbed its teachings. You are like the fish in water. And you will be safe inside the water as long as you are in harmony with your surroundings. Only fools are ready to lose everything in return for nothing.

Yet, I ask, what about you? What about the person inside you? How can you calm her down? How can you shut her up? I know your husband is an insensitive pig. He doesn't have this good person inside talking to him. He does not suffer when he is mean to you. He is a natural bastard. But what about you? You do deserve a better life. You have many admirable qualities that he can not appreciate. You have a huge emotional energy, a volcano of feelings, a longing for romance, a thirst for understanding.. Yes, you have the right to satisfy your heart. You have the right to feel wanted and desired. You have all the right to find someone who listens to you. You only want a receptive heart to absorb your pain and sadness. You need a soft pillow to be able to take a nice nap that will aid you to go on with your tiresome life. You are human, and all humans are weak.

A nice chat with someone with whom you feel comfortable can lift up your mood for the whole day. I understand how good it feels when for the first time you reach out your hand in distress to find another hand willing to catch yours. There is someone who is not trying to make use of you. Someone who finds you funny, intelligent, interesting, and romantic. Someone who sees the real you. Someone who is always there to hear you and comfort you. Someone who cares for your feelings and tries to lift up your spirits. Someone who doesn't criticize you or patronize you. He makes you laugh. He says nice words. He is interested in what you think. He likes your sense of humor. He asks about your day. He pays attention to all the details. He gives you his opinion when you ask for it. He cares and shares your troubles. He finds your voice musical. He knows how to bring out the best in you.

And you got used to this man in your life. His presence, even through emails, online chat, phone calls, or sms, has become so essential. You can't go back to your life before him. You can't stop needing him. You feel you are addicted. It is all innocent talk. It is just communicating with someone you feel comfortable with. You exchange views and a couple of jokes. It's not a big deal. It's not your fault that society doesn't allow a married woman to have a male friend. You have to keep knowing him a secret, although there is nothing secretive about your relationship. I understand it all, believe me. And I don't blame you. And I don't have any bad thoughts about you. I know you are a good woman. I know that you are a respectable person who wouldn't do anything shameful or immoral. I won't care for you if I didn't believe all that.

My dear, I want you to think more about yourself. You might think that you are in total control of how this hidden communication is going and where it is heading. But others who did that all thought the same. However, they reached a point when they became more flexible with the strict rules they put from the start. For some, curiosity was beyond control. "I have to see this person. His face will say more about him. It would tell if I can really trust him or not. What if he is a young boy or an old man who has been deceiving me? I must find out for myself." For others, it was the unexpected development of feelings towards this person. They found themselves getting closer and closer, and the closer they become the more they get attached. Then you can never know. Your mind will start deceiving you in such a cunning way, making you able to find a justification for anything you want to do. Your mind can use your negative feelings towards your husband to push into directions you didn't really want. It can make the idea of revenge sound so tempting that it becomes irresistable. I've seen women going for things they didn't truly want just because they felt like a chance for revenge. The more they get attached to other people, the more guilty they feel, and the more they hate their husbands for being the cause for all this mess. This area is so slippery. No matter how much you think you are in control, there is always a chance of falling. The secretive nature of the relation gives it unlimited possibility for expanding. Walking two steps sounds as risky as walking the whole mile. It is a dark side of your life after all, and once you have this side it tends to fill itself gradually, adding more and more secrets. Then you will find that the innocent secret has turned into a whole other life, where there is a whole other you playing the leading role. The amount of secrets piling up will turn into a mountain dividing your life into two. Once this happens, a secret whether innocent or not, becomes a load of guilt placed over your shoulders. You only shake it off when the other person takes over, but it will quickly return again once you are back to your first self. And that's what you are stuck with most of the time.

You don't deserve that. Why torture yourself in such a way? Why do you willingly switch from being a victim to being guilty? What if your most carefully hidden secret was found out? How will you be able to prove that it is innocent? How will you appear in the eyes of everyone? Who will believe your defences or understand your motives? If you have kids, what will happen to them? What if they heard any of the things being said about you? How can you face them? How will you be able to continue being a mother in their eyes? And what could possibly be worth all this disaster? Fear of society? Fear of divorce?.. Do you think these are enough reasons to ruin yourself?

If you are having a bad marriage, invest the time and feelings you are ready to place into another relationship inside your marriage. Try to work things out using all possible methods. Express yourself honestly. Don't seek quick fixes that depend on your endurance and sacrificing your wishes. If that doesn't work. Face it! Be brave to admit to yourself that now is the time to jump off this sinking ship. Marriages fail for many reasons, but they only destroy people who are not wise enough to know when to end them. If you are newly married, give yourself at least 2 years before having children. You can never test the stability of your marriage before that. If things are not going well, don't ever listen to those who say that kids change husbands. They change them to the worse, that's all. Get out. Now is the right time. You don't need to increase the number of victims in this sinking ship. It is never too late to have the life you want. Don't live in denial. Denial only complicates matters and makes them grow beyond repair. Each year you spend in a failed marriage, is not only wasted from your life forever, but adds up to the losses and makes it more difficult for you to leave.

My final advice to you is to weigh things before taking any decisions. If you lose yourself, there is absolutely nothing to win.

Wednesday, November 14

How Much Does a Woman Pay for Divorce?

This time I pose the above question because I was so surprised to see that many people can't form a realistic image about the critical condition of divorced women in Egypt. I'd like to say that women who haven't undergone the painful experience have a big share in contributing to this unrealistic view. Our media, with all its messed up representations of almost all social groups, also played a very big role in shaping this image. This false image more or less originated after the law of khul' (a law which gives the wife the right to divorce her husband through court if she hates to continue living with him on the condition of returning back the amount of money paid by her husband as dowry at the time of marriage, and which also states the inability of husbands to appeal against their wives divorcing them) was approved by the Constitutional Court. It is as if a single law can wipe away long years of negative stereotyping and social discrimination practiced against divorced women.

It is true that this long-anticipated law (along with the introduction of family-court) came at a very critical time, and was actually the only hope for thousands of women who have been waiting for years for a verdict that would put an end to their miserable marriages. Going through many legal battles, years of waiting, going from court to court to follow the lawsuit, paying a big sum of money to lawyers, were never enough to ensure winning the case. Women faced many obstacles during hearings, and it is so difficult for most of them to prove that serious harm was inflicted on them by their husbands. That was because of the general trend among married men here, who refuse to divorce their wives no matter how bad their marriages have turned to be. The majority of men think that women have no right to decide when to terminate a marriage. It is taken for granted that such a decision is 100% masculine. A man can suddenly and unconditionally decide to divorce his wife, and the law even gives him the right to divorce her without her knowledge. He can then be kind enough to ask the police to notify his ex-wife, by sending her the divorce papers, or he can just disappear without ever caring to let this woman know whether she is still married or not.

Another reason why men refuse to divorce their wives has to do with money. According to the Islamic shariaa, a man who divorces his wife has to pay a fine (mo2a7'ar) which is already stated in the marriage contract, a monthly amount of money for children fees (nafaqah), and monthly payments for the ex-wife (nafaqet 3eddah+mot3ah) as long as she doesn't remarry. All this in addition to the wife's right to keep the appartment where she lived with her husband in case she has custody of their children who are under 12. Of course these financial rights will be lost if the husband refuses to divorce his wife officially. Men have the choice of verbally declaring divorce, which is considered a full divorce from a religious point of view, without going through the official procedures to authenticate this divorce on paper. In such cases, the Egyptian legal system is totally paralyzed. Women who are verbally-divorced have absolutely no authority to claim their financial rights. They have to file for divorce first, and if the court divorces them, then they can claim those rights. But the problem is that the judical system doesn't approve of verbal-divorce, except when the ex-husband confesses that he did actually tell his wife that she was divorced, which is useless of course!.. or if the wife can get witnesses who are ready to testify that they heard her husband while verbally declaring divorce, which is equally useless. In 99% of the cases, husbands who divorce their wives by saying "you are divorced" won't say it in front of witnesses. Besides, a husband can always object to the testimonies of the witnesses, and members of the wife's family are already considered as having weak testimonies.

The other option would be for the woman to pretend that she was still married. She will then try to convince the court that her husband has been harming her. Again she will have to face the dilemma of the witnesses, objections by the husband's lawyer, and the own estimation of the judge of what is considered to be real harm. Therefore, most wives had no other choice but to say that "this harm" was due to lack of sexual intercourse. Can any Oriental woman stand in front of judges and lawyers to say such a thing? Even if that was the only way to have a divorce, it is considered too shameful and scandelous.

Now, what happened with the khul'? Not a big difference in fact. A wife has to convince the court that she has experienced a "change of heart" towards her husband, which prevent her from giving him his shariaa rights (which is the polite term for sexual rights). In this case, she will be viewed by everyone as being an unfaithful wife, who probably has an affair with another man. This would be the only reason behind her mysterious "change of heart," what else can it be? So, as you see, a woman who resorts to this solution is risking her riputation. What good will divorce do her after that?

What if she doesn't want to mention this change of heart? Same dilemma. She has to prove that her husband is abusive or violent or that she was seriously harmed by him. Now, with khul' (also called no-fault law) it is different. She doesn't have to go through the same complicated process of proving physical harm. After all she is will pay for divorce, so it may be enough that she gets weak testimonies. Yet, the fact that the law does not strictly define the degree of harm sufficient to grant a woman's right to divorce leaves a big room for the estimation of the judge. You can now guess what that means. Women of low social status won't be taken seriously if they filed for divorce because of being hit by their husbands. It is generally accepted among low classes that men can be phyically voilent with their wives. And this doesn't seem to alarm anyone who belongs to this social class at all. The judge then believes that rejecting the case is in favor of this family. To him, this woman is just angry and will soon calm down. So what if her husband hits her? Did he hit the queen of England?

Another example on the absurdity of the word "harm" is the fact that polygamy isn't considered by some judges to be harmful enough to the wife who discovers that her husband had secretly married another woman. The fact that polygamy is authorized for men in Islam, makes many judges reluctant to certify that it is psychologically harmful to the first wife. Judges are men after all, and with male calculations, a verdict that permits a wife to have divorce when her husband marries another can cause a revolution among women. If all women had easy access to divorce, the majority of men won't be able to marry more than one. Even a judge is not brave enough to announce a final judgement concerning polygamy. But is it really that hard to tell whether polygamy harms the first wife or not?

I hope that by now it is clear for you to see that women don't really have much say in deciding whether to go on with their marriages or not. Those who are lucky enough to get off the hook are only a small percentage. Women care for their children much more than they care for themselves and are willing to endure anything for the sake of protecting those children. Therefore most women whose husbands refuse to divorce them won't have the guts to file a lawsuit against their kids' father. How can a mother subject her children to this ordeal? How will she appear in the eyes of those children when they see her standing against their own father in court? This is the absolutely unendurable thing for mothers. Can you see it now? While men have unconditional access to divorce, not having to even enter a courtroom to end their marriages, women undergo a long process of painful suffering and have to beg for their divorce! They are forced to stay with husbands they hate. They are denied justice in the legal system. And those who succeed to end their marriage carry a social stigma and face a wide social rejection that reduces them to the level of bacteria!

-"Did you meet the new employee?"

-"No. Is she here already?"

-"Yeah.. hmhm.. Take care, she's a divorcee."

-"In what way shall I take care?"

-"She will share the same office with you. You may think she can be a close friend."

-"And what's the problem with that?"

-"Oh, you innocently naive girl! Sure you don't want anyone to think you hang out with her."

-"Sorry, I really don't get it. Why won't I want that?"

-"Hey.. You're single girl. You don't want to harm your reputation in any way. What if a colleague wants to propose and then finds out that your friend is a divorcee?"

-"What will happen?"

-"Are you seriously that naive? He may change his mind."

-"That will be good. But why?"

-"You don't mean that for sure. Why?? He will have doubts about your behavior. What makes a single girl like you have a divorcee as a friend?"

-"Wow.. And will it be any different if I was married? Can you be her friend for instance while I can't?"

-"NO WAY! Will only be friendly around the office, but I must keep my distance."

-"Why? Doesn't your husband trust you?"

-"Of course he does. It's I who don't trust him. Not him as a person, you can't trust men in general."

-"What's the relation between not trusting and the new employee?"

-"If I ain't careful enough in keeping my distance, she may wish us to be friends outside the office."

-"What's wrong with that? Can't you have coffee with her in a public place or what?"

-"That's not the problem. She may call me at home. My husband may pick up the phone. She then might visit me at home, and my husband can meet her."

-"Oh, I see.. So, you don't allow any women to call you or visit you at home."

-"Not any women. She is a divorcee, don't you understand?"

-"No. I can never understand, and I refuse to accept such a thing. What is there to understand? What if I was the one who was divorced and she was the single girl? Would you be telling me this precious advice now? Please go to attend to your work and never mention such things again."

-"You are young and inexperienced. I was just trying to open your eyes. Do as you like, you will only blame yourself for not taking my advice."

-"Thanks ya madam. But I don't think I will ever blame myself for being human and fair. I don't care to please a suitor who will doubt my conduct if one of my friends is a divorcee. And I certainly won't marry someone that I don't trust. Even if he leaves me for her, I won't regret. Because then I will be sure that this man did not deserve me and therefore is not worth keeping. That's me and that's how I think. There's no place for your wisdom here I'm afraid."

Do I need to say more?.. Not only does a woman pay a very high price for divorce, but she also has to pay for it more than once.

Thursday, November 8

Weddings: The Facts behind the Biggest Conspiracy

How many weddings have you attended during your lifetime? How many of those whose wedding you attended ended up in divorce? Does it make you wonder?

When I was a child, the thought of attending a wedding was so exciting. From the moment I learn from my parents that we are invited to a wedding party, I kept counting the days. I always loved to keep wedding invitations. They looked so elegant and beautiful. To a child, a wedding party is a huge event. You get to see lots of people, who are wearing their best clothes. The whole atmosphere is filled with happiness and joy. The wedding march (zaffah) with the loud drums, singers dressed in uniform, the bride and groom who have an exceptional glow, the typical two rows of guests surrounding the march with clapping and zaghreet (a special cheering sound by which women salute the newly weds), the dazzling light in front of the march which is held by a man walking backwards for video recording, the organized drum beat which is played whenever the couple are to take a few steps forward, all this creates a magical atmosphere that is sure to stick to the memory of children in particular. The married couples themselves need the video tape to remind them of the details of their party. But it is all printed in the memory of the very young guests.

It is a whole other experience for the children, especially girls. I remember waking up on those days feeling the thrill of the big event yet to come. At school, I told all my friends that I'm attending a wedding. I would describe my dress and what I intend to do with my hair. I may be even lucky enough to convince my mother to lend me some blush or lipstick. I would tell them which famous singers or belly-dancers I expect to see (it was common at that time that parents who sent out invitations would let the guests know about the entertainment program). I would even tell them everything I know about the bride and groom whose wedding was to take place that evening. Classes felt a lot longer than usual. They were keeping me back from getting ready for the big event. I still had to go with my mom to the hairdresser, which is usually so crowded on those days (almost all weddings used to be on Thursday night). I would dress up like Cinderella and wear the pair of sparkling shoes which are carefully kept in their box for such events. The party itself was just a fairy tale, and like Cinderella I danced till it was time to go. I couldn't sleep at night without revising every single detail that had happened at the party. I remember (what I thought then to be) nice women wishing me the same luck of the bride (the usual "3o2bal elbanoota" felt so good back then). If the bride was one of my relatives, I keep thinking why she looked so different. I barely knew her in this new hair color and heavy make-up. Why didn't she ever try this make-over before? She looked amazing that night, like a star.

I find it very hard now to evaluate my childish thoughts. Was it good for me back then to live in Wonderland? Could it have been better if things were put in their right perspective? Is it good for a child to live in an ideal world, even if it doesn't really exist? Or is it better for her/him to know the facts from the start? Would I have been that happy back then if I had been realistic? Or it would have been better to save me the shock of discovery later on? No one can tell.

But what I am sure of now, is that it is a crime to be left to maintain this childish view while growing up. The way I see it, leading a girl to keep her idealistic imaginary view of marriage falls under the domain of conspiracy. It is nothing less than that. And should never be taken less seriously.

Yes, parents have the right to be concerned about the future of their daughter/s. Yes, they have the right to dream of her wedding day. Yes, they do have the right to want her to start a family which will grant her social and psychological (sometimes financial) security long after they are gone. It is so understandable. Nobody can argue against that. You always want what is best for your children. But many crimes are committed under this banner, from authoritative upbringing to telling lies to deciding what is right for them.

When you watch TV shows which claim to be searching for answers concerning the reasons behind high divorce rates in Egypt, they just keep bluffing about married couples who are not ready to make compromises. (Of course there are rare exceptions to this rule, but the majority sticks to deciding what is right for you, just like your parents.) They will talk about ambitious girls, whose financial independence may tempt them to risk the stability of their marriages. They will tell you that we lack old social values and family ties. They will do whatever it takes to convince you that a marriage is a sacred union which deserves sacrifice. They can't bring themselves to see the roots of the problem. If the roots are rotten, you can never save the plant. You may prolong the life of the leaves on the surface, but not for so long. Unless you dig your hands into the mud to see what's down there, you are risking massive infection in the whole soil. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to the institution of marriage.

Why do people get married? The answer may be obvious to you. And no matter which words we choose to rephrase our answers, they will all eventually evolve around something like "because it is a human and a social need for mating and forming a socially accepted structure where partners and their offspring are able to exist harmoniously in the wider network of social relationships." This is my own definition, and you may disagree with it. If you find it good enough, then let's examine whether this is what really takes place in reality.

It is clear that we have deviated from the core philosophy behind marriage. When you come down to Egyptian marriages and the way they are managed, you will find that it has absolutely nothing to do with that. In our society, there is a culture which promotes external appearance at the expense of essence and meaning. To explain further, society pushes its members into the direction of adopting an image which satisfies the demands of the bigger picture that society wants to reflect about itself. It is the appearance that matters. You have to mainly photocopy the pattern followed so that you earn a place for yourself among the socially accepted group. There are lots of rewards for those who follow the pattern, while there are severe punishments for those who don't. Even if you agree and believe in the same values, you are no good as long as you don't fit into the frame they decided for you.

As a girl living in the Egyptian society you have a list of requirements that you should follow in case you want to join the club of the "respected norm". Memberships are automatically granted if you are:
Educated but not over ambitious
Obedient to men and elders
Shy and timid
Appear to be religious
Marry young

Why did they include marriage in those requirements? Well, because that's what men want. Men always go for young women, and if you happen to break the rules previously mentioned you are decreasing their choices. If you are not under the pressure of having to get married at a certain age, you probably will postpone that until you reach a certain degree of career stability and financial independence. By then, you will be past the preferred age, and threatening to ruin the marriage market for men. What if many girls were inspired by your achievements? Then girls can easily take the decision to turn down marriage offers at a young age. There can be a time when all brides will be mature women, who have already shaped their beliefs, built a career, and are financially secure and independent. Now, I can assure you that men would rather drop dead before they see such a day. How can a man marry an equal? That's a crisis!

Here comes the biggest cover up in history.. (Believe me this is way beyond The Da Vinci Code.) They have to get you into this white dress before you can think of any better alternatives. Brainwash is a very powerful tool that has proven extremely effective. But in this case, it won't be enough. There has to be real temptation.. Something to get your mouth running.. You guessed it right baby.. It's the wedding. Marriage is all about signing a contract, so why do people spend all this money on extravagant weddings? Have you ever thought of that? Why don't we just sign this contract and go home? What's a honeymoon for God's sake? Why do married couples have to take a vacation and travel? They are married for a lifetime. For sure they will get many chances to travel on official and summer vacations. What makes them run away once they seal the knot?

This entire circus was carefully designed to dazzle pretty young girls. Just like luring a kid with candy, you are being lured by the party, the wedding dress, the new home, the exotic honeymoon, and the respected title of Mrs.("madam" is a very prestigious title in our society). Have you ever thought why only women receive their titles according to their social status? It doesn't make a difference whether a man is married or not. He receives his title according to his profession (doctor, bashmohandes, ostaz,). "Mr." remains unaffected, even if this man married 10 times. He is who he is. Why do you have to change your title because you got married? Why does everybody have to know whether you are married or not? And why do you keep the title even if you are no longer married or widowed? In these cases, "madam" does not reflect the reality. Yet, it is a must that you remain labeled as such. The law states that shops displaying "used goods" must put a label which indicates that, otherwise they will be in serious trouble.

So, what happens is that while a bride's mind is so distracted by so many details, she does not pay enough attention to the man who will fill the place of the groom. It is like a fill-in-the-blanks kind of situation. There is a wedding, which means that there must be a cake, a dress, a guest list, floral arrangements, DJ, and of course a groom wearing a tux.. Oh, Wait!.. I don't want him to wear a bowtie. If he shows up in a bowtie, tell him to forget it.

The period of engagement is supposed to be your final chance to make up your mind about this huge life decision. However, you find that it is all about shopping and reviewing catalogs. I believe it would be more practical if they included a Groom Catalog, cause in such a case the catalog will be responsible for the accuracy of the description written under each groom. A bride-to-be gets completely absorbed into designing the final look for her marriage, who has time to spend with a future husband? She is told that this is a huge advantage. You get to choose everything according to your own taste, that's perfect! But later on, she discovers that the only thing which she didn't really choose according to her taste was the groom himself; the man with whom she should be spending the rest of her life. While engaged, she became an expert in wedding gowns. She can tell you the difference between real and artificial marble. She formed an interesting theory about furniture fabrics. Yet, try to ask her about the groom. You will find very vague adjectives being said, like "He's kind. He's good. He comes from a good family."

We have to admit that the social restrictions which avoid the healthy formation of relationships between different genders has caused many to resort to arranged marriages (gawaz elsalonat), especially with the increasing pressure imposed on girls at a certain age. Eligible bachelors are aided by family and friends in the search for a suitable bride. While on the other hand, parents are doing their best to find a suitable groom before their daughter ends her third decade. There is not much room left for choice here. You never know.. Maybe this groom is your last chance of jumping into the marriage train. Are you willing to take that risk? Can you guarantee that you won't regret turning this guy down? How can you be sure that a better one will find his way to you in the right time? At that point, "a bird in hand" seems to be the wisest idea. Now, let's move into serious details: the apartment, the dowry, the furnishing, the party…etc. And the bride has lots of serious business ahead. Her mother suggests that they start visiting jewelers before the groom surprises them with a certain choice. Of course he will want to save money, but don't worry.. your mother will take care of that. She has a great experience with jewelry that she has been waiting for so long to deliver to you. With her help, you will be able to get the best of the best. Just choose whatever you want. The choice is all yours now. You will make a lot of important decisions. Remember that you only marry once (or so it is supposed to be) so you must pay lots of attention to the dress.. the white dress.. your lifelong dream.. you are getting very close to wearing it at last.

I don't think I have to say more about how the process goes on after that. I've made my point. Marriage has been reduced into a wedding. You buy one night with all the rest of your life. This cultural structure has turned an institution which constructs the building units of society (marriage) into a quest for the white dress. How can a girl survive without the dream of the white dress? What if she never gets to wear the big white dress? Is any girl ready to imagine that? Can she really resist the temptation? Will she be able to realize that this dress can not buy her happiness? Could she truly believe that not wearing it doesn't make her any less than those who do? Bring me a girl who can do this. I want to meet a girl who has a realistic idea about what marriage is. I want to see a girl who can challenge this romantic illusionary tale where everything is white.

The conspiracy targetting girls has served its aim. There are girls who are ready to give up anything in return for the big white dress. Many girls take it for granted that they must get married at a certain age. Many girls follow all social requirements so willingly in order to become the one-night-stars. What if you become Cinderella for one night? Better than never. Even if the fairytale sways its way to Beauty and the Beast later on, they don't seem to care. They know that everything is gonna be alright. "Marriage changes everything," mothers keep saying. "When you live together, many things will improve. Don't worry." So, why bother about getting to know the person? You have a long time ahead of you to do so. Just give yourself a chance. Love comes with time and shared memories. Don't waste your only chance to live your dream of the wedding. Imagine yourself sparkling and receiving greetings from everybody. You will be above the stars. You will never see pity in the eyes of women. You will gain the power and authority of a Married Woman. You will have your own home. You will join the club of the respected ladies who used to be your superiors. You will be one of them. You will get the chance to judge others, just as they used to judge you. You will have the wisdom that only married women get to have. You will be the inspector instead of the inspected. Who can resist that?

I have exposed the full chapters of the conspiracy, and I hence put all the facts in front of you all. In doing so, I am not expecting any girl to change her view of marriage. I understand that the appeal of this fantastic image is much more powerful than any facts related to it. By reading those lines, I am holding you responsible for your fate. It is an innocent trick. Now that you have the knowledge of what lies beneath all those fabulous arrangements and celebrations, you can not return to your ignorant state. You will have to act more responsible towards yourself. Nobody knows what's best for you better than yourself. You know that, and you trust that. So don't deceive yourself into thinking anything else, no matter what. Don't search for a husband to fill the gap in your fairytale. Being a good person does not mean that he is the right one for you. Marriage is not a matter of fact. It is not a bridge that you have to cross at a certain point in your lifetime.

I will now attempt to answer the question I raised in the very beginning. I believe that couples get divorced because our social view of marriage is up-side-down. We want marriage and then we search for the one who will play the role of the partner in this marriage. This is the exact opposite of what our human nature dictates. You have to meet someone who convinces you with the idea of marriage. You have to reach the point when you feel that you want to grow old with this person. You need to feel the emotional and mental bond that is strong enough to suggest the possibility of turning this bond into a marriage. Without that, you will be deceiving yourself. Things can never work the other way round, even if the whole world made this claim. Those who tell you that they loved their husbands after marriage didn't actually have any choice, and can never bring this love to the test. Marriage is not a must in itself. It only becomes a must when you decide that. That is, when you have absolute faith in someone, and you feel ready to take your relationship with him to the next level. When you genuinely believe that you can never go through life without this person, only then can you decide that it is time for marriage. You will then find that everything falls into its right place. You won't need a big white dress. You won't care for jewelry. Furniture and electric appliances will go to hell. The happiness in your heart comes from the thought of sharing your life with this person and experiencing everything together. You will find out that a small wedding with family and close friends makes more sense. Those are the people who really care for you and with whom you can share your happiness. You are ready to start your married life at once to experience what it feels like to live together in your own home. Instead of a honeymoon for once, you will plan all your vacations to be romantic and special. You will then discover that marriage is actually the means serving an end.

Here you have it! You are ready now to be in charge. I exposed all the hidden cards in front of you. Take your pick!

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde