Saturday, February 16, 2008

Marriage and Terrorism

In Egypt and in other countries, like Saudi Arabia, governments help finance mass weddings, because they are concerned about the destabilizing effect of so many men and women who can not afford to marry.

The mass weddings are hugely festive, with couples, many in their late 30s and 40s, allowed to invite dozens of family members and friends. Last year, Mr. Taha said, he had about 6,000 applications for help — and managed to aid 2,300 men and women. In Idku, a small city not far from Alexandria on Egypt’s north coast, Mr. Taha’s charity staged a wedding for more than 65 couples; 200 others received help but decided not to take part in the collective wedding late last year.

The couples were ferried to an open-air stadium in 75 cars donated by local people. They were greeted by a standing-room-only, roaring crowd, flashing neon lights, traditional music, the local governor and a television celebrity who served as the master of ceremonies for the event.

“They are encouraging the youth to settle down and preventing them for doing anything wrong,” said Mona Adam, 26, as she watched her younger sister, Omnia, marry. “Any young man or woman aspires to have a home and a family.”

Across the Middle East, marriage is not only the key to adulthood but also a religious obligation, which only adds to the pressure — and the guilt.

“Marriage and forming a family in Arab Muslim countries is a must,” said Azza Korayem, a sociologist with the National Center for Social and Criminal Studies. “Those who don’t get married, whether they are men or women, become sort of isolated.”

Marriage also plays on important financial role for families and the community. Often the only savings families acquire over a lifetime is the money for their children to marry, and handing it over amounts to an intergenerational transfer of wealth.

But marriage is so expensive now, the system is collapsing in many communities. Diane Singerman, a professor at American University, said that a 1999 survey found that marriage in Egypt cost about $6,000, 11 times annual household expenditures per capita. Five years later, a study found the price had jumped 25 percent more. In other words, a groom and his father in the poorest segment of society had to save their total income for eight years to afford a wedding, she reported.

The result is delayed marriages across the region. A generation ago, 63 percent of Middle Eastern men in their mid- to late 20s were married, according to recent study by the Wolfensohn Center for Development at the Brookings Institution and the Dubai School of Government. That figure has dropped to nearly 50 percent across the region, among the lowest rates of marriage in the developing world, the report said. In Iran, for example, 38 percent of the 25- to 29-year-old men are not married, one of the largest pools of unattached males in Iranian history. In Egypt, the average age at which men now marry is 31.

And so, instead of marrying, people wait and seek outlets for their frustrations.

-Dreams Stifled, Egypt’s Young Turn to Islamic Fervor

The Wedding Shortage

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