Polygamy in Egypt
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Historical insightPolygamy was legal for the Ancient Egyptians. Polygamy is the practice of marriage to more than one spouse simultaneously. Although polygamy was legal it was generally only practised by the wealthy – the prospect of paying maintenance to several women must have reduced the practise. Pharaohs practised polygamy which helped to seal alliances, establish their dynasties and resolve questions of succession. In instances were polygamy was practised one of the women would be named as the main wife and enjoyed a special and higher status compared to any other wives.About Egyptian Women in Ancient Egypt
Sarcasm vis-a-vis polygamy
In 2011, Egyptian sarcastic writer Ihab Moawad released a controversial book titled “I Will Still Remarry,” in which he counts what he sees as advantages of polygamy for both men and women and for the society as a whole. Moawad dedicates his book to the “oppressed” men in Egyp’t”‘ who woke up one morning to find that society has changed from being predominantly male-oriented to being increasing female-oriented”, Arab Press House reported. He also dedicates the book to all single women, including his first wife who was angry when her husband remarried, allegedly for the best of their relationship. In his book, Moawad tackles the way women perceive men who choose to have more than one wife and regard them as “unfaithful” and “disrespectful” and the way they look at their husband’s second wives. Moawad writes about a conversation that took place between him and an unnamed woman and in which she lashed out at every man who remarries and every woman who agrees to become the second wife.
“No decent man will take another wife and stab his first wife in the back and no decent women would agree to ruin the relationship between a man and his wife and children,” she told him. He writes. When he reminds her that polygamy is allowed in Islam, she argues that it is only done under very specific circumstances. “A man can take a second wife in special cases. For example, if the first wife can’t have kids or is sick. But apart from this, it is unacceptable.” Moawad interviews several single women and most of them rejected being second wives under any circumstances.
“After all this waiting, I can’t marry half a man,” A woman told him. “But isn’t half a man who’s decent better than 100 men who are indecent?” he asked. “No decent man would have two wives,” she replied, adding,“Men remarry because they are flirts and are not satisfied with one woman.” In contrast to women, the men Moawed interviewed supported polygamy, which they see as important in many ways. “Several men cannot live with one woman so they have to remarry to quench their desires. Isn’t that better than committing sins?” one of them said. “If he remarries, he will become more emotionally stable and this will also have a positive effect on the first wife.” This man disagrees with women’s statements about men remarrying only if the wife is sick or can’t have kids. “A man can remarry because he doesn’t like the way his wife treats him,” he added. “Some women think that being tough with men is the best way, but this is what makes a man look for another woman.” “Egypt sarcastic book praises polygamy” on Al Arabiya News, January 23, 2011.
In 2009, member of the Egyptian parliament has filed a lawsuit over an article questioning why polygamy is allowed for men in Islam but not for women. The article in the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm was written by a female Saudi journalist, Nadine al-Bedair. It has been denounced by some Muslim clerics as inflammatory and anti-Islamic. But others have said it serves the purpose of highlighting how badly some husbands treat their wives. The article was clearly meant to cause a big stir and it has. Published in the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, the article by Nadine al-Bedair suggests that polygamy should either be allowed for both men and women – or else there should be a new concept of marriage where men are not allowed to take a new wife just because they are bored with the old one.Sebastian Usher, “Female polygamy article sparks row in Egypt” on BBC News, December 18, 2009.
In Islam, men can marry four women at the same time – but only if they can treat them all equally. In practice, women in more traditional parts of the Arab world can suddenly find themselves after years of marriage with few or no rights if their husband chooses to take a new wife. The article has drawn predictably strong criticism from some Muslim authorities in Egypt, with one saying the author had no right to attack Islamic traditions and had to be stopped. An Egyptian MP has taken up that gauntlet, filing a legal complaint against the paper, accusing it of promoting vice. Other clerics have said male polygamy serves a social purpose, allowing widows, divorcees and unmarried women to find a partner. But one cleric at least has taken a different tack. He says the article is clearly not an actual call for female polygamy, but an appeal for people to wake up and see how badly some women are treated by their husbands.
- Leila Reem, “Polygamous duplicity: Stricter personal status laws do not seem to have curbed polygamy in Egypt” on Al-Arham Weekly Online.
- About Egyptian Women in Ancient Egypt
- “Egypt sarcastic book praises polygamy” on Al Arabiya News, January 23, 2011.
- Sebastian Usher, “Female polygamy article sparks row in Egypt” on BBC News, December 18, 2009.