"We have doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers and businessmen. Just call us and you will find your dream partner. Forget your age, economic or social background.”
If you’re walking along the street,you will find a colorful cocktail of popular “marriage offices” and their ads and slogans displayed on building walls, metro vehicles, and even on the backs of tuk tuks.
Recently, the number of marriage offices has doubled and extended into the realm of website and landline services. They have sneaked in to major cities such as Cairo, Giza and Alexandria.
Obviously, there are those that have negative opinions about the idea of marriage offices based on the belief that they open the door for roguery, fraud and prostitution. Others, however, believe that the marriage offices provide a good opportunity for desperate singles and that they are quite similar to the old “khatba” who used to match partners.
Finding a marriage office
It was easy enough to collect a large list of marriage office names and mobile numbers, but it was like building castles in the air to convince one of these offices to conduct an interview. Despite their allegations of being legitimate, they are often afraid to appear on record or to talk to press.
Egypt Independent was finally able to arrange an interview with workers from a marriage office located in the Agouza district, a Giza neighborhood, called El-Amerya. We called the office to arrange a suitable meeting with the owner that would satisfy both parties involved. One of the offices workers replied and was helpful and cooperative.
The worker who answered agreed to answer some questions, on condition of anonymity.
Not all the applicants are desperate singles
The interviewee disclosed that not all applicants are old, desperate single females, as many of them are young, unmarried and in their twenties.
“The ages of the office’s applicants range from 20 years to above. Females are the majority of customers,” she noted.
The worker continued: “The applicants’ occupations vary, starting from upper-intermediate graduate [students] to university professors."
The worker pointed out that every girl who comes to the office chooses certain criteria she hopes to find in her dream partner and writes them in an application. The worker sighed: “But if time passes with no replies, some girls waive some of their criteria.”
“The application” is the marriage visa, according to theseoffices. It is a form with price ranges from EGP 220 to EGP 520 as prices usually vary depending on educational level, social and cultural backgrounds.
The application, which is a long form with the applicant’s photo attached, usually includes the applicant’s name, educational level, job and requirements needed in the future partner.
"The Gulf tycoons are mostly admiredby unmarried girls in their twenties,"the worker noted.
Marriage in the offices takes place in many ways: the legitimate marriage, which is according to the Muslim sharia regulations, the customary “orfy” marriage and the “misyar” marriage which is carried out by standard, contractual procedure. The latter procedure specifies that the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will and includes terms such as living together.
The worker believed that the customary marriage is most often preferred by Gulf tycoons.
“The role of our office is not only to interview both camps but also ensure marriage. If a marriage doesn’t take place, the partners will go back again to the office for a new partner search,” the worker said.
The worker continued, “The office gets a commission starting at EGP 1000if a marriage occurs.”
"We are a very respectable office, which is ‘legitimate’and never practices fraud,” she noted.
Day in a Marriage office
As agreed in a meeting, Egypt Independent went to the office to observe its work.The office is located on a popular street in a small apartment containing many rooms.The office staff included the female secretary, deputy and manager, also the owner of the office.
Something caught that us off guard was a small banner next to the apartment door with the words “Al-Amerya for family care.”
There was a big room for the applicants and partners who were first-time daters. There was a young female applicant with her mother. We tried to interview her but she refused.
The interviewees were welcoming, despite being slightly worried and cautious.
The office owner, who was wary and uninterested in the interview, spent most of the interview looking at the television and avoiding our questions.
Amr Abdel Megied, the office owner, gave us a copy of their application previously mentioned, stating that the Al-Amerya office is professionally licensed, commercially registered, and has a tax card and an agreement from the Grand Mufti in 2003.
At the start of the interview, Abdel Megied said the office includes 8 age categories starting from 18 year olds to persons in their 70s and 80s. However, he believes that most applicants are in their 20s and 30s, while only a few people are in their 80s.
“The turnout of males and females is alike," said Abdel Megied, contradicting his workers’ estimates on turnout.
When a newcomer comes to the office, a meeting takes place with one of the office workers which establishes the newcomer’s membership. Then the applicant fills out the application, and Abdel Megied begins matching the applicants until he finds a suitable bride or groom for the applicant.
When asked if the office checks the applicant’s identity, he said that they “usually check the applicant’s national ID and the syndicate card if he or she has one."
Abdel Megied also confirmed that privacy is guaranteed.
Contrary to his workers, the owner denied any illegitimate weddings in his office, confirming that all marriages occur according to Muslim sharia and via the "maazoun."
Why marriage offices?
Obviously, the singles’inability to marry due to the ailing economy, unemployment and soaring prices enables marriage offices to achieve large profits and spread the phenomena even more.
According to the Central Agency of Mobilization and Statistics in 2012, the percent of married males hit 67 % compared to 87 % married females. In other words, the percentage of unmarried males is 33%, while the percent of single females is 13%.
Abdel Megeid said there are various reasons that can push people to the refuge of marriage offices, such as being over-aged or shyness in social and work settings.
"Marriage offices are developing over timeand is a new feature of modern life," he said.
He continued: "Traditional ways of marriage nowadays are so rare and only appear in Bedouin tribes and simple countryside societies, but the complexity of larger societies requires marriage offices.”
"From 20 years of age, a girl starts to think about marriage and sometimes females get scared of being single forever and the title of ‘spinster,’" said Abdel Moniem Shehata, head of physiology in Monofeya University.
Shehata continued, "Research showed that females aged 25 years and older are suffering from various psychological upheavals and sometimes depression."
He pointed out that the increase in the number of single females and males is due to the poor economy in addition to females’ parents clinging to marriage traditions requiring large sums of money in dowry.
When asked about the reason behind society'sstereotype of unmarried women as guilty, as if it her own fault she were single, he said it is because society is in a state of identity upheavals and duality. According to him, society is trying to merge with technology and has refused to abandon the traditions which make it confused when judging females.
Shehata refused various illegal marriage methods such as the mesyar marriage, because marriage is based on stability which doesn’t exist in this type of marriage.