There’s a Wedding Crisis in Egypt Because Everyone’s Too Poor to Get Hitched

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Egypt’s had a rough couple of years. Now they’re facing personal problems as well as political. From the late 1990s to 2006, the cost of the average Egyptian wedding rose 25 percent, and research suggests that those numbers have risen further since. For the many families living below the poverty line in poor communities along the Nile, the newly exorbitant costs are crippling, coming in at approximately 15 times the average annual household’s costs. Even for Egyptians with gainful employment, these costs simply are not feasible.

Ahmed Gamal, one man living in the Nile-adjacent community of Assiut, works at an accounting firm 10 hours a day, also works part-time as a youth-activist. He told NBC News that he “found a woman he wants to marry,” but he knows he won’t be able to propose to her for at least another seven years, while saves up the necessary $15K he’ll need to put toward the wedding. Gamal laughs with his friends about the improbability of any of them getting married any time soon, but their problems undercut a much larger issue in Egypt.

For Egyptian men, wedding costs don’t just cover the venue or the crystal centerpieces. They cover the couple’s eventual housing, large appliances like refrigerators and ovens, and because it’s not already hard enough, jewelry for the bride. Men and their parents generally pay for two-thirds of the wedding costs, which includes the larger responsibilities. Meanwhile, women and their parents cover one-third of the costs, which includes smaller home furnishings such as lighting fixtures.

The financial burden of these responsibilities, especially for the men, is oppressive. In recent years, surveys have shown that men must wait — on average — almost four years to save up for a wedding, while women wait approximately six months. Now with unemployment rates soaring, these wait times are steadily increasing. The waiting purgatory has actually become a phenomenon in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, and is dubbed, “waithood.” “Waithood” is comprised of a series of interconnected issues. The men and women stuck in “waithood,” who haven’t yet “consummated their adulthood” are often viewed as adolescents, which freezes them in a state of expected immaturity and irresponsibility, creating a self-perpetuating cycle of underemployment and disempowerment. Meanwhile, by the time women stuck in “waithood” hit their late 20s, they’re considered damaged goods, and men’s families no longer deem them suitable wives.

The problem has bridged the categories of the personal and the economic. Young people frozen in this bizarre state of adolescence are economically vulnerable, and pose a threat to the economic stability of the country.

Madiha El-Shafty, a professor at the American University in Cairo told NBC News, “It’s a cultural problem at the end of the day… You need to change the minds of people, to lower and change marital expectations… Why do parents place so much pressure? Why do lives only begin at marriage?”

Image via ruifipieggio