Back in 2007, I came across the inspiring blog of a girl named Ghawayesh who says the she is “an Egyptian living in Europe but her heart stayed back home.” She explained to her visitors the meaning of Ghawayesh saying:
“Ghawayesh means bracelets. In my context it symbolizes the cuffs of my culture. I don't know if I like them or hate them.”
One particular post about Egyptian women getting married to foreign men caught my attention.
In her post about The Whores, Ghawayesh starts by saying:
“Times are changing and many ‘respected’ families have come to accept the fact that their daughters can make their own choices of choosing to marry whoever they want, if they EVER CHOOSE to marry, which is also a new trend in Egypt.”
She then explains an interesting fact about the psyche of Egyptian males who falsely believe
“that they are superior to males of other nationalities. When an Egyptian male opts for a foreign wife, then he's a winner and a stud and God's gift to her and she should be so thankful for his eternal tantrums and malignant ego. And their children are the most beautiful in the whole wide extended family only because their mommy is Blondie and so they are!”
Ghawayesh points out how double standards apply to the reversed scenario:
“Once an Egyptian woman chooses for a foreign husband, then she's a whore and her family is low class and she has done it only because she failed to win the lottery of marrying a super Egyptian man, so the poor soul opted for a second best who sadly happens to love her and understand her and respect her and not lie to her and actually goes as far as flossing his teeth for her!”
The witty blogger takes her analysis to the next level and examines the religious/legal prerequisites. She notes:
“If a non-Muslim foreign man decides to marry a Muslim Egyptian woman, he will have to convert first. But converts will always be accused of being untrue or incomplete Muslims. Be it for matrimonial purposes or for otherwise, a convert is never good enough for the ‘true Arab Muslims.’ Like Islam is a genetic trait or something. Only God knows that most of those born-Muslims are God's lowest rank hypocrites, and that God is the true judge for what's in our heart.”
Finally she moves on to advise non-Muslim men who wish to marry Muslim Egyptian women saying:
1- Marrying an Egyptian Muslim woman is not easy. You are aware that you are making a sacrifice and a commitment for life, aren't you? You have to understand what it means to convert before you do. I have sadly seen how several women and men who converted for their summer flings and later on ended up in an identity crisis and several conflicts about their children's affiliation. Let alone those stories/nightmares of kidnapping children and disappearing without a trace.
I don't know how strict your partner is, but you might have fights over your having an alcoholic drink or about the origins of a funny looking sandwich that could say oink if it was alive. You could get offended and take it personally that she doesn't want you to kiss her sometimes for you don't know that she has just washed and on the way to pray and is supposed to stay ‘unsullied’ until she does her prayer. Those small misinterpretations can create lots of tension if you're not ready for them.
2- The financial issues are something typical of our culture. The real reason why families ask for lots of money and a house for the bride, is simply the fact that men can be untrustworthy ‘if taken only at face value,’ and when they make financial commitments, they become more serious.
You can sit with her dad and explain to him what you have, and that you will be willing to offer her the best you can afford, and yes, everything in Egypt is negotiable, even this issue! And if they turn you down because you can't afford some bricks in Cairo where cockroaches will have a blast while you're gone most of the year, then save yourself the trouble and let them cry over their lost roaches.
3- You have the right to wonder about female circumcision. Statistics say that 97% of the Egyptian women are circumcised. I am an Egyptian woman who studied Medicine and do not know of any woman in my family who was, but did see many circumcised women while I was practicing medicine in Egypt. Circumcision comes with certain social classes and you have every right to know whether your future wife is circumcised or not and in what way this might have affected her psychology.
Unfortunately the same question applies to you! There is a misunderstanding that circumcision of males is an Islamic obligation, which is not. It is mandatory in Judaism and strongly recommended FOR MALES ONLY in Islam, but you won't go to hell if you kept some foreskin and kept it clean.
You have to be ready for such a personal question from your partner, or even her dad, and I think they would appreciate a serious answer about your extra skin situation!
4- Be ready for racist behavior in Egypt. Your wife will be insulted for marrying you. She will be called a prostitute and will be asked on which street corner of which resort you had picked her up. They will say oh she married a foreign because she was too old to marry an Egyptian, the poor thing! Yeah better than being alone for the rest of her life!
Maybe you will not be told this to your face, but you also need to know that some Egyptians would give you the best treatment and call you their ‘best friend’ after having known you for 5 minutes, and once you turn your back they will stab you with the biggest virtual knife there is.
Egyptians have a long way to go before they learn to live and let live. Please beware of that.
Today, I ran into a very special Wandering Scarab, who says that she is “one more Egyptian living in Canada”. Like Ghawayesh, she is an Egyptian girl who chose to get married to a foreigner.
In her post about the Egyptian system for the new ID card, the Wandering Scarab shares with us her adventure in the Land of the Pharaohs to get her ID.
“As usual, upon my visit to Egypt, my parents explained to me the necessity of having a social number even though I didn't think I needed it as I do not intend to ever live in Egypt. But they insisted I will need it when the time comes for inheritance and what not after they pass away. So off we went to apply.”
“Later that day I picked up the application to determine what I needed to submit to get the damn social number that my parents think is very important. Besides my full name, address, date of birth, and place of birth the application also required my occupational status, marital status, and educational status. So I inquired as to how I can go about providing all that information given the fact that I live and work elsewhere.”
People helped her with the following advice to provide for the needed information:
I must obtain a certificate of employment from my employer, which includes the address and name of my employer in Canada and have it officially translated and notarized by the Canadian Embassy in Cairo.
I must obtain a certificate from my university that proves I graduated with a Bachelor's degree also translated and notarized by the Canadian Embassy.
I must obtain a marriage certificate valid in Egypt also translated and notarized by the Canadian Embassy.
So far it was all possible although it was a big feat. One wrinkle; because my husband is Canadian (a foreigner) we have to submit more information. In order for the authorities in Egypt to give us an Egyptian marriage certificate equivalent to our Canadian one, my husband would have to obtain a certificate of employment from his employer that details not only his name and address, but also his age, income, and social insurance number, oh and yeah, also translated and notarized by the Canadian Embassy.
In addition, because I am Muslim, my husband has to obtain a “Certificate of Embracing the Islamic Faith” from Al-Azhar, (yeah yeah also translated and notarized). Without the certificate from Al-Azhar we could not get the certificate of marriage. But my dear husband was persuaded to join the madness and agreed to go to Al-Azhar and indeed got the little piece of paper that said he is a good little Muslim.
None of that stuff upset me. The thing that bothered me most is the fact that upon clarification, I learned that if I was an Egyptian male, none of that applied even if my wife was a foreigner. I insisted that I will not take part in anything that devalues and dehumanizes women like that, contrary to my parents advice.”
The infuriated Wandering Scarab hit the kind of brick walls that we – Egyptians – face everyday whenever we need a license, passport, ID, or a replacement for any document or certificate we once had.
How did the story end?
“Two days later I had my Egyptian social number. My parents had taken the easy way out. As far as the Egyptian government is concerned I am single (never married), did not receive education (illiterate), and unemployed (complete and utter loser).”