- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CAIRO | Ask a young Egyptian man what he wants from the revolution, and he will say “freedom.” Ask him why, and he’s very likely to say, “So I can get married.”

An underlying drive of youthful protesters who have clamored for political reform in Egypt — and in other Arab states — is a desire to change a society that expects a man to have money before he marries.

No one claims this drive has been the sole cause of the “Nile Revolution” that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak, but many here say that financial freedom that allows them to marry forms an integral part of the new democratic country they hope will emerge.

During Egypt’s 18-day popular uprising, the familiar chants of “The people demand the fall of the regime!” were joined by chants of “We want to get married!”

The root of the problem is not the cost of a dowry or the wedding party. Egyptians say the problem is a corrupt and inequitable financial system that leaves the unconnected with few chances for advancement.

Tamer Sayz, 28, met the woman of his dreams in college — a young pharmacy student who “had everything I wanted.”

“She knew my soul,” he says.

But he never proposed marriage. “I wasn’t working at the time, so I backed off from going to talk to her father,” he says. “In Egypt, you must have more money to marry.”

Mahmoud, a 25-year-old financial analyst who participated in the demonstrations, says middle-class Egyptian men need to raise as much as 13 times their annual income to afford to marry.

“[If you want to marry], your parents support you, or you borrow money from the bank,” he says, adding with a laugh, “The other option is to steal.”

Most Egyptians wait long after turning 30 to marry, and “it makes people unhappy,” Mahmoud says.

This unhappiness is not exclusive to Egypt; it permeates the Arab world. Young people across the region uniformly complain that there are not enough jobs, and, therefore, there is not enough money for marriage and families.

Navtej Dhillon, as a Brookings Institution fellow and director of the Middle East Youth Initiative in 2009, identified the problem as a growing source of unrest in the Arab world.

“It’s important to understand the significance of marriage in most Middle Eastern societies,” she said in a 2009 interview with PBS. “The family is a cornerstone. Your rite of passage to adulthood is secured by marriage. And sexual relationships are only really approved and remain legitimate in the Middle East within the institution of marriage.”

Think tanks, nongovernmental organizations and institutions such as the World Bank have reported that more than 50 percent of the Arab world’s population is under 30 years old, and high unemployment is cited frequently as a key factor for unrest in the region.

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