What's behind the high divorce rate in Egypt?

Amira Elhamy , Sunday 6 Feb 2022

Al-Ahram Weekly investigates the reasons behind the high divorce rate in Egypt and how they might be overcome.

High divorce rate in Egypt
High divorce rate in Egypt

We are all faced with challenges in life that we need to overcome if we are to enjoy more stability in our lives and relationships. Perhaps one of the main relationships we find certain challenges in is marriage – and unfortunately sometimes those challenges can lead to untying the knot and going for divorce as a last option.

In Egypt, there has been a rise in the divorce rate, with 2020 in particular seeing a growth in the number of divorce and domestic abuse cases in the courts. 

“It is okay to face various obstacles either before or after marriage, but steps need to be taken from the beginning in order for a couple to stand on solid ground and avoid a divorce,” said Samah Samir, a member of Mawada, a project established under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Solidarity to raise awareness about marriage’s challenges among young couples who are planning to tie the knot. 

“When we choose our potential partner, we must bear in mind that no one is perfect. We should know ahead of time of the defects of our potential partner and make sure that we can cope with them,” Samir said. 

One of the core challenges is that many couples may get married for the wrong reasons or think that they can change their partner after marriage. However, no one can change at someone else’s request, and every young man or woman should take the time to examine the character of his or her potential partner and make sure he or she can accept their personal traits, both good and less good, she added.

Every couple must have common ground to facilitate communication following marriage, whether this is mental, social, or cultural. “Criticism is one of the core elements that can negatively affect communication between a husband and a wife, and it can create deep and damaging feelings. An inability to apologise is another factor that can damage communication,” Samir said. 

“However, we cannot deny that the economic factor is another critical element behind the stress that many couples suffer from, and unfortunately many married couples end their marriage as a result of this stressor,” she added.

But for sociologist Said Sadek, the divorce rate in Egypt is actually a good indicator.

“Having a high divorce rate is not a good indicator, but having a normal divorce rate could be one as it indicates that many people are refusing to stay in unsuccessful marriages. We need to analyse why we have so many unsuccessful marriages in Egypt in the first place,” Sadek said. 

“Many young couples might think about or actually get married for the wrong reasons. Some get married to escape family pressures or because they have hit their 30s and still have not got married. The way we approach marriage may also be quite outdated, as for some arranged marriages and getting married to relatives are the sole means of getting a lifetime partner.”

Sadek believes that there should be a way for men and women to get to know each other well before getting married. Meeting someone with friends on social outings might not be enough, and getting the chance to establish good mental and emotional communication is essential. 

“I believe there should be more mixed schools, with teachers who can establish discipline and respect between girls and boys from a young age. Families must also play a more proactive role with their sons and daughters. They shouldn’t pressure them to get married, because the result is usually a failed marriage,” he said. 

“Regarding recent marriage-awareness campaigns that target young men and women, I think the age group needs to be extended to 25 years old at least. People can get married at any age. The public figures who speak to young men and women in these campaigns must be carefully chosen, and they must have a great deal of flexibility.”

“Advice to men and women who are planning to get married must be given through various channels, as if we want to target youth, we must reach them out. We should integrate special educational programmes in the media – and today the media may actually play a negative role in promoting bad examples through soap operas, for example. Many series may show husbands mistreating their wives, and this can have a negative impact on viewers.”

“But, of course, the larger problem is when such situations happen in real life, and not only in soap operas. Some people will still advise an abused wife to continue in her marriage for the sake of not being divorced, for example. The media is always ready to air the separations of celebrities, but they are not role models, and the media could be promoting unreal and negatives image about marriage to the public through them.” 

Marriage, Sadek said, faces various challenges, including the economic factor, whether before marriage when the couple is looking for an apartment, or following marriage with everyday expenses. Then there is the social factor with all the taboos and norms that can lead to major problems like domestic violence that are often not talked about openly. Thirdly, there may be problems that happen as a result of sexual ignorance. These must also be properly solved and not looked upon as a taboo, he said.

“Marriage is about partnership, and the social norms, customs, and even laws on marriage in Egypt shouldn’t all favour the man. Women should be assured of their rights in marriage as elsewhere,” Sadek said. 

“In order to face the problem of the high divorce rate in Egypt, we need to revisit the factors that affect the marriage system in the first place, like social norms, the personal status laws, education, the media, and any laws or social taboos or religious views that are in favour of men,” he added. “It is very important to carefully examine masculinist attitudes. The social stigma that may still stick to divorced women must also be eradicated.” 

“Men and women should bear in mind that they both have rights and duties in marriage, and no one should take over the right of the other or overburden him or her with extra duties. A marriage that enjoys equality is a healthy marriage,” Sadek concluded.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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