In Egypt as elsewhere, love is sometimes ignoring passports. If couples see a rewarding relationship, the obstacles are not lacking : the cultural and religious gap are not the least.
One evening, in a Dance club of Helsinki, Zaza meets a beautiful Finnish girl. A love story begins, concluded with a wedding! and divorce four years later. "She converted to Islam and became more practicing than I am, I am no longer a good Muslim fir her because I drink alcohol and do not do Ramadan regularly", says the young man , 31 years old, whose parents belong to the diplomatic corps.
During their marriage, the couple spent the first two years in Egypt and the following two in Finland. A world separates the two cultures. "Here we are starting small talks without any problem with people cross the street. There individualism dominates, hard winter and the long distances that separate people from each other in some regions don't help", says Zaza. In his view, Finns are kind of shy and suspicious about foreigners "they are uncomfortable when someone approaches within one meter, this is not a coincidence that I met my ex-woman in a nightclub where they escape in alcohol to overcome their shyness". Today, Zaza has a new girlfriend in Finland, "but out of question to repeat the experience of marriage for the moment".
Delicate situation Madiha, 53 years old, an interpreter and widow of a Frenchman with who she married in 1981, believes that meeting someone in Egypt is much more difficult than abroad because of "tradition and social pressure which enclose girls in a straitjacket". Madiha had met with Gerard, her future husband in August 1979 at the Meridien Hotel. She thought he needed an interpreter and went to him. Subjugated, he, who was to leave the next day, asked her to accompany him to the airport and then to wait a month without making a work commitment. After a month, he calls her and admits his love before he comes back. Two years passed before the two lovebirds decide to marry. Respectful of tradition, she waits for that day to give herself for him : "our relationship became more strong, we felt the need to get married. Love in Egypt goes through marriage, there is no other life forms as in the West. And my upbringing and my culture forbid to do it before". According to Madiha, Gerard has accepted these conditions and then converted to Islam out of conviction more than necessity to marry the woman of his life "there was no pressure, it came naturally".
Kareem and Anne, 27 and 26 years old, are newlyweds. They met at the cinema, they have been introduced to each other by a common friend. "It was love at first sight, remembers Anne. Me who has lived most of my life in Muslim countries because of the work of my parents, I do not think I would have found someone who fits me as much in France. I am multicultural, I have trouble finding the same mentality there, Kareem is cosmopolitan and allows me to stay close to the East".
The power of families Then after the meeting and wish to marry, the couple still must convince the families to accept this decision. Many Egyptian families oppose to mixed marriage for fear of legal difficulties caused to children and cultural, religious and social differences. Anne had the chance to meet a man and a very nice open-minded family : "The only thing that has disturbed them was that we lived together before marriage, it was a disaster for them. Otherwise, I adore them and they adore me".
Often, emerging relations between Egyptian men and European girls fail because some men want to shape them according to the image many have of woman. A kind of ownership, which must abandon her ambitions for independence, do not go out without their consent, to dress "properly" and avoid talking to other men. Mohammad Sabri, 49 years old, tourist guide, has been married for seven years with a German woman that he met at Egyptian Museum. "My family was right to tell me not to do so, today, I am divorced and I do not see my two girls", he laments. "She left because she could not stand egyptian life and traditions", he says. A quiet departure. Without notice, she asked refuge at the German Embassy before flying to Berlin.
The same story came to Mohammad Gamal, 52 years, importer of western goods. His italian wife also left Egypt with their two children, a girl of 20 years old and a boy of 16. The two men do not even know where their children are now living, despite their repeated pleas for help asked from the egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mohammad Gamal says he married his wife to help his business. "I met her in Florence, I needed the Italian nationality to go and come to Italy without hassle, I did not particularly loved her", he says. The couple settled in Egypt and held 10 years. "I did not want to divorce to not impair the live of my children", says Mohammad, who has no more the right to be granted a visa by the Italian consulate. "I lost everything because I didn't get the italian citizenship and I am deprived of my children", he summed without weakness.
Religion and education Unlike Mohammad Sabri, Zaza has encountered no difficulty in convincing his family to accept his marriage. "The Egyptians are a people that has been mixed with Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, French, Turkish and English. It is therefore no question of talking about problems with the mixed marriage. The idea of racism is foreign", he says. Anyway, in his family, mixed marriages are common place : his elder brother married a French and one of his cousins made his life with an American. "It's banal, said Zaza, but for the marriage to succeed, we need to agree on issues like religion and education of children".
Anne and Kareem decided to raise their children to Muslim values. "I wish to teach them the principles of Islam, but then it will be to them to decide if it suits them or not", he says. Anne, meanwhile, is an atheist, but she says : "the fact of living with someone who has as much faith made me evolve and question many things".
Her atheism does not change anything for Kareem. "Some people in my family would prefer that I marry a Muslim woman but I love Anne, he said. She has everything I want and she can understand me because we're both artists. In addition, Egyptian women often do not have enough personality, they are too closely linked to what Mom and Dad make or think".
According to the Koran, Muslims can marry Christian and Jewish, but children of this union will be Muslim ... The opposite is prohibited a Muslim woman can not marry a non-Muslim. Even if her husband had converted to Islam, Madiha had to convince her mother, her sisters and brothers of the correctness of her choice. "In Egypt, it goes with the family, I did not want to frustrate or annoy them by deciding without their consent", she recalls. Madiha therefore has managed that Gerard can come at home and be accepted. "I served as interpreter between my mother and Gerard, but my brothers and sisters are French speakers. The problem was Mom. After a while, Gerard finally admit to her what was the goal of his : he asked my hand. Mum just said that the decision was mine".
Big gap Madiha was married for love. Mohammad Gamal for interest, others have opted for union with a foreigner because of frustration. As Mohammad Sabri. "I was obsessed by Western sexual freedom. At first I wanted to have casual relationship just to satisfy my physical and psychological needs. Over time, I thought it was love ... I have proposed her marriage". Then, it was hell because of the cultural gap between his German wife and him. "I've never been with a western woman before..was my first experience".
Zaza, from his side, explains that the mixed marriage has the advantage of simplicity compared to marriage with an Egyptian, which is too complicated. "The statistics on the success of mixed marriages are daunting, it's true, but egyptian girls don't leave any choice... They have become materialistic when the country suffers economically, he laments. In addition, some parents see their daughter as an article launched on the market and believe in marriage as a business to improve their social status". He specifies the innumerable obstacles : enormous wedding endows, wedding gift, wedding party, including the apartment, furniture and appliances. "Marriage to a foreigner is less costly, a human marriage... Only one ring and a small celebration are enough".
However, it is more complicated administratively to bind to a stranger. To be valid in both countries, marriage in the case of a mixed couple must be registered in both the consulate and the Egyptian General Notary Service in the presence of two witnesses, while a marriage of an egyptian couple is registered only by the Mazoun (equivalent of a priest for Christians) in the presence of two witnesses.
The mixed couple must also face egyptian disapproving gaze of others. Suzi, 70 years old, a French atheist from jewish origin, divorced with an Egyptian, recounts her experience. "Here, I am forced to hide my origin to not create confusion between Judaism and the Hebrew state. I say that i'm christian so people leave me in peace !" She only comes back to Egypt for her business of renting apartments, revenue shared with her ex-husband and which has been a bone of contention that led to divorce.
Zaza has agreed to condemn the intolerance of some of his compatriots. "Here, every blonde is considered as a woman of little virtue of the mere fact of belonging to a Western country", he said. "These are unfortunate Whereas, Madiha launches. Love is love, I married to Gerard because I loved him. Point. It should not be prejudiced".
Clash of cultures As for daily life, Zaza admits that more concessions are needed in case of marriage with a foreigner. "In Finland, women are number one, they have the key positions in government, for example. Fortunately, I got married in Egypt and we have lived for a time, which helped my ex-wife to understand that Egypt will never accept that his wife has the pants".
Fatima, 24 years, Franco-Moroccan, has had several egyptian boyfriends : "They say that love erases cultural differences, yes, but over time they reappear. Although we say, very few real mixed marriages are successful, there is always one who must accept and make concessions, but never both ... "
Madiha also had to adapt to different behavior upon her arrival on French soil. "To kiss, concubinage or illegitimate children, it was really weird for me to start". or the possibility to leave alone. "In Egypt, a woman should not go to the movies alone, it is not forbidden, but it is the custom. All kinds of outings are reserved for men or for women who are with their husbands or their brothers". For her, mixed marriage, "is like a jacket of customs and traditions. You should know when to keep and when to remove".
The only thing she regrets is that her husband, yet proud of introducing her as an Egyptian to his friends, asked her to forget sometimes its oriental caracter. "But I said to him, I could not abandon my culture, I never thought to do so. There was something impossible for me to accept, for example : living with him without mariage. Once again, a friend came to visit him while he was not there. I asked him not to come over, it was inconceivable to receive him while I was alone. He mocked me and my husband treated me as if i was crazy".
Madiha has spent much of her life in France speaking french, but thinking egyptian. And after having shared her life with a Frenchman, return to Egypt has not been easy: "The French woman has the same rights as the man, she is a human being at 100%. I wanted to draw the consequences of this freedom that I had known as a woman returning to Egypt. Here, immediately, I was treated as French. That is why I am afraid to make my life with an Egyptian, I am sure I should give up this freedom", she regrets.
Fatima has measured the difficulty to understanding where everyone is molded by its language and culture. However, Arabic speaker, she explains : "The misunderstanding is common language, a word misunderstood and everything can change. Especially as the Egyptians react very quickly and do not seek to discuss or find a solution to the problem before deciding that everything is ended. The French are more interested in analyzing the problem...why and how before acting".
Madiha, even with her fluent French, said: "There is a gap. It takes more time to understand or to be understood, unlike a couple of the same culture that can use undertone. but in the other hand it is a treasure to be forced to talk a lot ... "
Nationality of children Patrick, a frenchman working in Cairo, will soon marry an Egyptian. Converted to Islam before meeting with Leila, he has overcome the reluctance of her family. "Here the girl is like a treasure, we must know the mentality to learn how to behave, but there always a freedom to be alone together".
Do not live with her before marriage does not bother him : "I do not think it is a prerequisite, I think I really know her well enough. But hey, for sure that the lives of both od us is not always evident because we still had very different educations. The advantage is that she speaks french and i speak arabic, we know each other cultures and there is no difference at this level", If he has children with Leila, they will not get the Egyptian nationality. Indeed, children born to Egyptian mothers and foreign fathers can't have the egyptian citizenship.
Nahed, 39 years old, married to a Lebanese, sees this unfair: "And that may have fallen over generations. If we only have boys, my descendants will not be linked to my country". To change things, the country's constitution has to be changed. The political will is still not very assertive, even if projects are underway. "In addition, Nahed resume, this is very serious for the education and the financial plan because my children are regarded as foreign students and have to pay huge fees".
The obstacles inherent in a mixed marriage will not prevent them from multiplying. Anyway, as the Egyptian proverb says : "Marriage is like a watermelon that has to be cut and tasted to know its value", whatever the origin of the watermelon, Egyptian or foreign.
This Article was written for the egyptian magazine published in french "La Revue d'Egypte"