New twist in Egypt's marriage crisis: "I want a divorce" radio

Last year, Egyptian blogger-turned-author Ghada Abdelaal caused a storm with her book "I want to get married" -- a witty satire that outlines the obstacles faced by young Egyptians that want to get married. One year later, Egypt’s marriage crisis is back in the spotlight in a different context, namely the country’s surging divorce rates. Recently, an online radio station dedicated to divorced women was set up to support and advise divorcees and those thinking of ending their marriage.
Egypt Divorcees

CAIRO, August 27, 2009 (MENASSAT) — "Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her," Ghada Abdelaal said in an interview with the BBC about her book last year. "To say she wants something is seen as impolite."

Abdelaal’s book, which started out as a blog and turned into a bestseller, is filled with comic strips depicting the countless questionable and failed suitors who indefatigably show up at her parents’ house. One is worse than the other, she writes.

In her piece, Abdelaal’s speaks openly about what has become a serious problem for many young people in Egypt: getting married. Her book was seen was groundbreaking in Egypt where one rarely hears young women speaking out in public about wanting to get married.

Even if you do end up finding Mr. Right in the end, there is a financial issue to add to the mix these days.

Finding an apartment you can afford as a young married couple is not easy and constitutes a major obstacle to many young engaged couples that are looking to tie the knot. As a result, many end up being engaged for long periods of time, lacking the money to finance a home.

“In Egypt, the average cost of a wedding is equivalent to about 43 months of the entire earnings of both the groom and his father,” said Navtej Dhilon, the director of the Middle East Youth Initiative at the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institute in an interview with The National newspaper.

With a labor force of nearly 25 million people, an unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent and 20 percent of the population reported to be living below the poverty line, marriage is not realistic for many Egyptians.

Predictably, the marriage rate in the country is dropping according to statistics –– a worrisome report for a conservative country like Egypt where staying single, let alone getting a divorce, has a stigma attached to it.

Egypt’s marriage crisis has attracted attention from various circles, among them the media. In a bid to provide relief to frustrated engaged couples tangled up in the property dilemma, Egypt launched a special game show last year during the month of Ramadan, in which engaged couples competed alongside each other in a draw.

First prize? Whoever hit the jackpot won an apartment for themselves and their spouse. 

"I want a divorce" radio

Around a year after Abdelaal’s “I want to get married” hit bookstores, a new twist in the Egyptian marriage crisis is making waves over the Internet. In essence, it targets the opposite dilemma of the one facing Abdelaal: women who want to get divorced.

It is a newly established online radio station dedicated to divorced women or those seeking to divorce their husbands, to ease the taboo and provide a platform for divorced women.

It’s name: “Divorce radio.”

Just like Abdelgaal’s book, “Divorce Radio” also grew out of the blogosphere. While Abdelaal blogged about wanting to get married, the owner of “Divorce Radio”, Mahasen Saber wrote about divorce on her blog, “I want a divorce”

To reach out to a larger audience, Saber then decided to set up her own Internet radio station.

“After my blogging experience I decided to broadcast online; people prefer listening to reading and this will allow me to reach a bigger segment in terms of age, number, and social class,” the international blog community Global Voices quoted Saber as saying.

“Divorce Radio” has been up and running now for a couple of months and features broadcasts dealing with various topics relating to divorced women and those thinking of getting a divorce.

One of the pioneering programs was entitled “The misunderstood - yours truly” and sought to address some of the main issues faced by divorced women in Egyptian society.

In the second episode, entitled “from underneath my covers,” Saber reportedly brought psychologists on air for a discussion on the psychological aspects of divorce.

Other shows broadcasted over the summer discuss how to support and be there for your children in times of divorce and the everyday life of recent divorcees.

“Divorce radio” has found good timing for its debut on the airwaves. While marriage rates are dropping, Egypt’s divorce rates are currently surging.

Last year, Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) reported that one-third of marriages in Egypt end within the first year.

In 2006, there were over 65,000 divorces in Egypt.

Divorce has become so common in Egypt to the point that a magazine specifically dealing with divorce-related topics was set up last year.

“Just divorced” magazine, an English-language publication, runs under the slogan, “Knowing about divorce is the best way to defeat it” and provides advice to those men and women who are thinking of getting divorced.

It is run by a team of Egyptian lawyers, marriage and divorce counselors, and a number of “experts” on divorce.

Women in Egypt nowadays have the right to divorce without their husband’s agreement as stipulated by Egypt’s amended divorce law of 2000. But this path comes with a price tag. Women demanding a divorce must relinquish their financial rights.