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.”


Hassan Abdel Zaher is a Cairo-based contributor to The Arab Weekly.


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