In Yemen, the region’s poorest country, young men complain that marriage is too expensive for recent college graduates contending with a 35 percent unemployment rate.
“I’ll wait until there is a sale,” joked Khaled al-Hilaly, a 31-year-old Yemeni journalist who is frustrated by his inability to afford marriage. In the nation’s capital, Sanaa, young men from the university seeking to marry need at least $5,000 — almost four times the average income — and that is before the cost of the wedding, the home and the traditional gold for the bride, he said.
“Parents, especially fathers, believe that the more money the husband pays to marry their daughter, the more respect he gives her during the marriage,” said Mr. al-Hilaly in an e-mail.
What’s more, the Arab world’s linkage of jobs, money and marriage has long been the focus U.S. efforts to reform autocratic regimes in the region.
In a confidential U.S. diplomatic cable recently published by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, U.S. diplomats noted that discontent in Libya in 2009 was largely financial, but officials expressed optimism that economic reforms would appease growing unrest among the population.
“The fact that many young men are forced by lack of means to delay marriage is another pressing economic issue in a conservative society, in which marriage is a key social anchor and indicator of status,” reads the leaked cable.
For Egyptians, the revolution is over for now, and many have high hopes that their emerging new leadership will create more jobs and root out corruption. But former protesters also say that democracy includes financial opportunity.
“Egypt is at the beginning of a democracy, which will allow everyone in the country to have the same opportunities,” says Mahmoud. “It will allow everyone to be the one who wins. Why? Because [advancement] will depend on his performance, not his relationships.”
Other Egyptians say change will come from not only from a new government, but also the developing post-revolution society.
Gihan Abouzeid, an Egyptian researcher who focuses on gender and religious issues, says the new government’s first priority should be to provide social justice, which includes jobs for young people. But, she says, the very fact that the people came together to topple the regime should spark a change in Egyptian society itself.
Currently, a man in Egypt is often required to own an apartment and furniture and have enough cash to throw a large wedding, buy his bride gold jewels and immediately provide for his future family. In the future, Ms. Abouzeid says families may rethink marriage customs.
“With more political participation, with more space for everyone, people will have the tendency to be simpler,” she said in a cafe near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian uprising.
“I think they should start their own revolution,” she said. “They should insist.”
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