Egypt's 40-year-old 'virgins' speak out

Ahmed Maged
6 Min Read

CAIRO: At 47 Amer Naeem, a civil engineer, has never been married.

Although Naeem and a growing number of others his age can afford the increasingly exorbitant cost of marriage, they have chosen bachelorhood despite the societal pressures on both men and women to get married.

“Don’t ignore the fact that we’re the generation that came in the transition era, and definitely marriage, like many other institutions, has been affected by the changes which took place in Egyptian society during the past three decades, says Naeem.

Although sociologists disagree on what is considered the ideal marriage age, Egyptian men are generally expected to be married at 30-34. Women are expected to be married by the time they reach their mid-20s.

But according to the most recent statistics covering 1996-2006 issued by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), of the 4.5 million men and women comprising the 30-34 age bracket, 553,000 are single, 397,000 of which are men, which is over 70 percent.

Statistics show that of the 2.5 million Egyptian males aged 40-45 only 60,000 are unmarried.

Some researchers, however, argue that such statistics, released every 10 years, do not consider those who had signed the marriage contract but got divorced a few months later.

Essam Mahmoud, 44, a single hotel chef, noted that most of these cases refuse to remarry and should also count as single.

Is this an off shoot of an intricate economic problem?

Dr Ibrahim Eid, professor of psychology at Ain Shams University’s faculty of education, said that one of the reasons may have been the decrease of the state’s support for recent graduates in terms of providing job opportunities.

“The process of building one’s future is arbitrary; it takes years and years and usually with no definite results. By the time they hit 40, men begin to lose confidence in their surroundings and in the values that envelop matrimony. They realize that it’s all about money.

While Eid insists that the economic aspects are a major contributing factor, Dr Ghada El Khouly, a clinical psychiatrist and professor at Ain Shams University, believes that the financial situation is not the main obstacle to marriage.

“The absence of sufficient means isn’t the main deterrent as many believe. Because new standards stress that being accepted as a suitor depends on how much money you have in the bank, the majority of men have internalized this idea and so have been turned off by the mere idea of marriage.

Sociologists predict that the 2016 statistics will reveal a hair-raising increase in the number of single 40-45s who have lost all hope that the situation will change.

“I broke up with my fiancé a few days before the wedding because she kept making more demands, said Magid Rabei, 53, an art teacher.

Since then Rabei dropped marriage from his plans altogether, but Hassan Hossam El Din, 41, a single accountant who was engaged three times before, says that he doesn’t mind trying his luck again as long as no one asks him for a LE 200,000 moa’khar, a part of the dowry stipulated in the marriage contract and payable in case the husband decides to divorce his wife for no legitimate reason.

“Left on their own, all men would marry at 40 or 45, says Naeem. “Without family support, it would take no less than 15 years to stand on your own two feet. Those who made it before that had either received family support or had no choice but to succumb to the pressure of starting a married life on a very tight budget.

“By the time they are expected to think of marriage, those 40-plus single men are already scared away by the financial burden, the new laws passed in favor of divorced women and the excruciating conditions imposed by the girl’s family, adds Mahmoud.

Women, however, see the situation differently, accusing Egyptian men of preferring to remain free to hop in and out of relationships than to work hard for one stable marriage.

“Although the question of affordability has been solved for many in the 34-44 age group, they’re simply happier to have girlfriends, says Salwa Gomaa, 39, a single marketing manager.

“But none of these relationships actually lead to marriage partly because the average Egyptian man continues to believe that the ideal girl is one who has never been out with other men, she adds.

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