In Egypt, polygamy has its apologists and nemeses
The Quran advises men to have one wife, if they think they will not be fair to additional wives.
Old traditions, new problems. Egyptian women attend a wedding in the Egyptian Nile Delta province of Monufia. (AFP)
2017/04/30 Issue: 104 Page: 21
The Arab Weekly
Hassan Abdel Zaher
Cairo - Rania Hashem is seen as an enemy to many of Egypt’s married women. She is, however, an increasingly popular figure among many of the country’s men.
Hashem, a writer in her mid-30s, encourages men to be married to more than one woman at a time. She said polygamy, as sanctioned by the Islamic religion, offers a good solution to many social problems.
“There are millions of women who are past the marriage age and have not got married yet,” Hashem said. “Many married men also want to get married again but are afraid of their wives.”
This is the kind of talk that brings Hashem the wrath of many married women. She said that a woman recently phoned her and called her names. Another sent her a text message full of insults.
The issue, however, is not a joking matter but an expression of a larger problem in Egypt, sociologists said. Calls encouraging polygamy in Egypt seem to be bucking the trend in the Arab world, especially in the Maghreb, where laws restrict if not outright ban polygamy.
The right for Muslim men to marry more than one woman is linked to very specific conditions, according to the Quran. Islamic law allows a man to have up to four wives at one time, provided he treats them all fairly. The Quran, however, advises men to marry only one wife if the men think they cannot treat the women they marry fairly. It warns men they will be unable to ensure such a fair treatment.
The problem in Egypt, sociologists said, is that the number of women who have not married is growing. There are approximately 9 million women who have not married, with many older than 35, independent estimates state.
This is not happening for the lack of men. The CIA’s “World Factbook” states that almost one-third of Egypt’s population are men 15-54 years of age.
“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Hanan Salem, a sociology professor at Ain Shams University. “Several social and economic factors, including rampant poverty, unemployment and the rise in marriage costs, stand behind the presence of this growing number of spinsters.”
This is why Hashem dedicates her time to encouraging polygamy. Salem said that a “normal man” needed to get married to more than one woman at one time.
“Women should not get angry at this reality,” Hashem said. “A wife does not even have the right to object when her husband seeks a second or a third wife.”
Hashem has written a book titled “Polygamy a Religious Right,” in which she argues that, by allowing their husbands to get other wives, women will be applying the rules of the Islamic religion. She organises seminars and appears on television to promote her idea.
She is beginning to develop a following among Egyptian women, even if a majority of women grit their teeth when they see or hear her.
Mona Abu Shanab, a television producer in her mid-40s, has turned into a staunch polygamy campaigner. She claims that polygamy is the way out of many of the problems facing Egyptian society.
She said that “98% of married men want to have a second and even a third wife but it is society that opposes a right given men by God. “We should not have our heads under the sand.”
She also appears on television and has developed her own initiative to encourage men to marry more than one woman.
Abu Shanab said negative social attitudes towards polygamy stand behind the rise in adultery, the number of street children and divorce.
In 2015, there were 250,000 divorces in Egypt, the national statistics agency, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics said. There are also more than 1 million children living on the streets, independent estimates said. Rising divorce rates have alarmed Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has called for restricting men’s ability to divorce their wives.
“There are also millions of women out there who want to get married but cannot find suitors,” Abu Shanab said.
Polygamy, feminists say, demeans women and will exacerbate Egypt’s social problems.
“In believing that polygamy will end the problem of street children, help unmarried women get married and reduce divorce, some people are totally mistaken,” said Nehad Abul Komsan, chairwoman of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. “Such problems will actually increase when men are encouraged to have more than one wife at one time.”