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A Courtship Veteran Muses On Search for the Right Man

Ghada Abdel Aal, 29, is an Egyptian author and blogger who opened up the world of young women's real thoughts on gawaaz al-salonat, or living-room marriages. Most young Egyptian women, she says, want to get married at least as much as men do.
Ghada Abdel Aal, 29, is an Egyptian author and blogger who opened up the world of young women's real thoughts on gawaaz al-salonat, or living-room marriages. Most young Egyptian women, she says, want to get married at least as much as men do. (By Ellen Knickmeyer -- The Washington Post)
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"I was surprised to find the support from men, and at the response from women -- 'Yes, please, write for us. Write in our names,' " she said.

Sitting at a bare table because it was Ramadan and she was fasting, she wore a fuchsia head scarf in colors complementary to her long skirt and blouse. Several other women ringed the table, laughing along with her at her stories.

Her book is in its fourth printing in six months. Her writing -- in colloquial Arabic rather than the classical form usually used in publishing -- has struck a chord with many young Muslims. They write from Canada, Pakistan and Bangladesh to express support.

And in Egypt, many women see it as their story. "All the girls in Egypt have faced the same situation," said Enggy Aly, a 24-year-old clerk at a bookstore in downtown Cairo.

Abdel Aal has her detractors. Some write on blogs that she is an embarrassment to Islam, or to Egyptian women. Some call for a volunteer to marry her, so as to stop her writing.

Abdel Aal's appearances on Egyptian television to promote her book are painfully dry. Typically, interviewers seek her opinion about growing rates of spinsterhood, a concern here and in much of the Arab world.

Any Arab man wishing to marry is expected to hold a good job and to throw a lavish wedding. Unable to meet those demands, many young Arab men live with their parents, unmarried, deep into adulthood. In the Middle East, nearly 50 percent of men between 25 and 29 are unmarried, according to a study cited by the Dubai School of Government. That compares to 23 percent in Asia and 31 percent in Latin America.

That means that women wait too, but for those who are more affluent, waiting has brought more opportunities, more choices. "Girls today in their 20s, now they're educated. Now they work. They're not going to marry the first guy who knocks at the door," Abdel Aal said.

That does not mean Abdel Aal did not faithfully follow the rules of courtship. She did, and still does.

In college, when she studied to be a pharmacist, she and her friends were stalwart in resisting flirtations with male students, she said. Without the men approaching the women's families first, it was impossible to trust their intentions.

Weddings were prime hunting grounds, where families scouted possible brides for their young men. After a wedding, a videotape circulates among families, Abdel Aal said. "It's very important to make sure you get on the videotape."

Each feint toward a suitor, each retreat, she recounted on her blog, and then in her book. She borrowed courtship anecdotes from her friends for her blog.

Her family has come to appreciate her writing, she said. Her father chides her if she lets too long go by between updating blog entries. Her brother tells her, " 'You just have to forget about ever getting married in Mahalla now,' " she said.

At her age, Abdel Aal expects he's right. "No man tells his mother, 'Oh, please, Mom, find me a bride who is fair-skinned, beautiful, and 30,' " she said.

But her writing has expanded her horizons. People in the film industry have signaled they like her work, and she is taking a screenwriting course.

And she still struggles to make her world understand her view -- wanting marriage, but not blindly marrying. "I'm still hoping to meet someone. Someone I would decide, yes -- I like him."

To read more of these features, go to the Worldview page at http://www.washingtonpost.com/worldview.


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