Over the past few years, the numbers of marriage offices have increased. Ads in the streets of every neighborhood display slogans like, “We provide you with the perfect life partner regardless of your age, economic or social conditions.” Marriage ads appear on television, in newspapers and even on the walls of metro stations. While some believe they open the door for roguery and prostitution, others believe they can provide a solution for those desperate for holy matrimony.
According to Khaled Saeed, the owner and administrator of “al-Zawag al-Shara’y,” a popular marriage office in Maadi, society has changed its negative look towards this kind of marriage during the past few years.
“People used to have negative opinions about our offices and most women were too ashamed to tell their parents that they went to a marriage office. Now, the culture of the society has changed and most people prefer to find their life partner this way,” he claims.
Saeed explains that the man or the woman first needs to fill out an application form for LE150. For men, it’s important to mention their education, financial circumstances and the qualities he wants in his future wife.
For women, their name, age, a photo and the qualities she seeks in a groom will suffice. Then, Saeed starts matching the applications until he finds a suitable bride or groom for the applicant. After that, he calls the couple to arrange an appointment between the chosen man and the woman in his office in the presence of their families. If the two parties agree to marry, they must pay him an extra LE400.
In Saeed’s opinion, the main reason behind the increasing numbers of divorce cases nowadays is love-based marriage. He argues that love, by dissolving the barriers between man and woman, makes them lose respect for each other.
“I think the significant increase in marriage offices across Egypt is a very healthy phenomenon as we revive the old matchmaker concept but in a modern and more organized style. Our ancestors used to marry this way, and that was the secret behind the success and continuation of their marriages,” he asserts.
It takes courage, a 27-year-old saleswoman who preferred to remain anonymous, explains. She was very hesitant to go to a marriage office at the beginning, but her friend encouraged her.
“I think marriage offices can provide a good opportunity for a woman to meet new people and find the suitable groom. I don’t know why people criticize them so much, but in my opinion, these offices can help solve the spinsterhood problem that many women suffer from nowadays.”
Not everyone is on board. Amira al-Gammal, a 24-year-old dentist, rejects the whole idea. In her opinion, the practice turns marriage into a market, where rich men search for pretty women, stripping people of their dignity. She also sees marriage offices as unreliable places that people should not trust under any circumstances.
Brides and grooms can have strange intentions as well. “Because of the bad economic conditions of youth nowadays, most people who come to my office ask for Urfi marriage where there’s no need for the official registration,” says the owner of a marriage office in Helwan who refused to give his name.
“Others prefer Misyar marriage where couples agree to live separately but get together regularly, often for sexual relations. In fact, not a lot of people ask for Mutaa marriage, in which couples agree to divorce after a certain period of time,” he says. “I think there were only three or four cases since I established this office.”
Moreover, he notes that most young men nowadays come to the office searching for a rich divorcée or widow who has an apartment and receives a constant pension or salary. He explains that a new kind of marriage has appeared over the past few years under the name of “tourist marriage,” which allows rich Gulf Arabs who come to Egypt in the summer to marry Egyptian women for the period of their stay.
“If the man has an official permission to marry in Egypt, he can register the marriage contracts at the Justice Ministry, then he can divorce the woman any time later.”
“If not, he can simply resort to Urfi Marriage, because I don’t like complicating things,” he adds.
Although he is aware that these kinds of marriage are not accepted by a large segment of society, he claims that he aims mainly at helping young people who don’t have the required qualifications for official marriage.
“These kinds of marriage are widely spread in different countries all over the world. I provide people with what they want. If I decide to depend only on official marriages, I would close the office after two or three months,” the owner says.
Online, one can find hundreds of misleading marriage ads on social media, as well as hundreds of sham marriage websites. Mohammed Ahmed, a 32-year-old widower, explains his experience with one of the Internet marriage ads.
“Unfortunately, I was a victim of one of the deceptive ads that promise people a golden chance to find their dream life partner within a few days,” he says.
“At first, the website allowed me to sign in and fill in my personal information and I started talking to some women hoping to find the suitable bride. After two days, I was banned from getting into the chat room and the website asked me to pay LE500 as a fee for permanent registration. I entered the credit card data, and I realized that more than LE2000 was stolen,” Ahmed says.
“I went to the police station and filed a report about the incident, but unfortunately they couldn’t retrieve the money. I realized later that the owners of the online marriage sites create forged accounts with women’s names to attract men and deceive them.”
For his part, Saeed explains that these Internet ads are spread everywhere and distort the reputation of the marriage offices that aim at providing a real service to society.
“For some people, it’s completely a matter of business. Every day we hear about those who rent an apartment for a few months and open it as a marriage office and suddenly disappear after deceiving a lot of people and collecting huge amounts of money from them,” he adds. He says people can protect themselves from being deceived.
Opening a legal marriage office requires a governmental license and a tax record. From time to time, the responsible authorities send people to check the applications and the records to make sure that the work goes in the right way. It’s your right to ask about these licenses and records before paying a penny to a marriage office.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.