Economic cost discourages marriages in Egypt

Friday 18/12/2015
Costly enterprise. Egyptian bride and groom during their wedding party in Cairo.

Cairo - The last time Karim Mustafa tried to marry was almost four years ago but he was afraid he would be reject­ed because of his lack of money. Once he overcame his fear, Mustafa proposed but was stunned to learn that love alone would not get him the bride he wanted.

“The girl’s parents put a long list of demands on the table: a flat, fur­niture and a golden engagement present, to name but a few,” Musta­fa said. “The problem was that I was the least prepared to meet any of these demands.”

Mustafa’s adventure came to nothing and he decided never to think of marriage before he was fi­nancially ready. He is 31 now and does not think he will be financially ready before the age of 40, if he is lucky.

He is not, however, alone in this. Official data on the number of peo­ple in Egypt who are not married proves the point: About 13 million Egyptians over the age of 35 — 10.5 million women and 2.5 million men — are unmarried.

Sociologist Samia al-Khashab, who teaches at Ain Shams Uni­versity, blames Egypt’s economic conditions for the failure of a large number of men and women to get married.

“Economic conditions play a major role in the failure of these men and women to get married,” Khashab said. “A financially inca­pable and unemployed man cannot honour his marriage-related finan­cial commitments.”

A recent report by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), the research arm of the Egyptian government, said that almost 12.8% (3.6 million) of Egypt’s workforce of 28 million was unemployed in the third quar­ter of 2015.

Unemployment was a scourge for decades and was mainly about the failure of the country’s economy to generate jobs for hundreds of thou­sands of new graduates every year.

In recent years, however, unem­ployment started to have political dimensions, especially after the 2011 uprising.

Rampant instability and insecu­rity after the revolution scared in­vestors away and slowed down the tourism and service sectors, main employers in Egypt.

When he proposed to the girl he loved four years ago, Mustafa was unemployed. He now sells comput­ers at a major store in downtown Cairo. The money he earns, howev­er, is hardly enough for him to buy the flat or other items needed for marriage.

“Housing and furniture prices are on a continual rise,” he said. “Sup­pose I save money enough to buy a flat, can I put food on the table for my family after marriage?”

In the past six years, the price of housing more than doubled, ac­cording to economists. The same in­creases affected the prices of many commodities.

Economics Professor Mukhtar al- Sherif suggested a more vibrant gov­ernment policy be implemented to attract foreign investments to create jobs and also increase production, which can bring prices down.

“An increase in investments and production will eventually raise citi­zens’ income,” Sherif said. “These can be good solutions for the prob­lem in fact.”

Sherif added that current eco­nomic conditions make it difficult for youths to get married and when they do they fail to protect the mar­riage because of increasing financial pressures. In 2013, total marriages dropped 1.4% across Egypt while di­vorces rose 4.7%, according to CAP­MAS.

The agency says that 909,350 marriages were registered in 2013 compared with 922,425 marriages in 2012. It notes that a total of 162,583 divorces were registered in 2013 compared with 155,621 divorces in 2012.

Khashab warns against leaving the nation’s unmarried men and women to fend for themselves in their pursuit of marriage.

“The failure of these men and women to get married opens the door for an endless list of social ills,” Khashab said. “The government must intervene by subsidising hous­ing and marriage requirements to help all these people tie the knot.”