Salama Abdellatif

'Tourism marriage' under the Muslim Brotherhood

Human trafficking and latent prostitution

woman anti-morsi protester

CAIRO – The stench of dire poverty rises above the Hawamidiyya villages along the Nile, some 30 kilometers south of Cairo. It is not strange to see fancy cars, most of which have license plates bearing the words ‘customs’ or ‘tourism,’ parked along the lively corners of derelict streets. There is nothing at all to indicate that these cars belong to the inhabitants of Hawamidiyya; this phenomenon is linked to ‘tourism marriage’ brokers.


Rich Gulf nationals go to Hawamidiyya, especially during the summer, to contract marriages for a definite period of time in return for a meager amount of money, some of which goes to the broker. The rest goes to the family of a young woman, often a virgin under 18 years of age, so that a rich man about the same age as her father can have sex with her while on vacation in Egypt.


During the years before the 2011 revolution, women’s and human rights organizations in Egypt followed several courses of action in their struggle to end such practices, including awareness-raising marches in areas where ‘tourism marriage’ is popular, in order to disseminate the dangers it entails. Rights groups have also advocated the promulgation of a law that criminalizes marriages if either one of the spouses is under 18 years of age. However, these efforts regressed after the revolution and such practices came back with a vengeance, against a backdrop of economic crisis and weak local authorities. Illegal practices, like changing the young woman’s age through falsified medical evidence attesting that she is over 18 years of age has also become widespread.


The growing phenomenon of ‘tourism marriage’ in Egypt’s governorates and towns was profiled in the US Department of State report on human trafficking last year, which estimated the number of such marriages to be in the hundreds. According to the report, “minor girls are entering into temporary marriages with Arab Gulf tourists during the summer in return for money” with “underage girls being taken into sexual slavery and forced to work as servants.”


Dr. Hoda Badran, president of the Egyptian Women’s Union, told NOW that poverty is the main factor behind the spread of this phenomenon, asserting that “tourism marriage is a form of slavery or of selling women.” Badran explained that she met with several “summer wives,” some of whom gave birth to children and struggled to inform the husband of his paternity. ‘Tourism marriage’ victims may have to abandon their newborns at an orphanage or childcare center so as not to become an ‘outcast’among her family members, the same people who may have sold her in the first place.


Nohad Abu al-Qomsan, president of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, told NOW: “Slavery and servitude have acquired a legitimate cover in some countries, including that of summer marriage, which has spread in many Egyptian villages, not only in Hawamidiyya, due to poverty and other pretexts.” Qomsan noted that, in many cases, a girl is married off several times in a short span of time without heeding the customary waiting period, which might cause confusion as to the identity of the child’s father.


Qomsan argued that some Islamists want to “turn the poor into a pool of abominations, which can be traded on the pleasure market, with clients seeking multiple wives or marriage for pleasure.” She also underscored the phenomenon of marrying displaced Syrian women in Egypt.


Stories about of some mosques – mostly affiliated to Islamist currents in Cairo and other known regions, especially on the outskirts of the capital – promulgating the idea of marrying displaced Syrian women under the guise of ‘shelter marriage’ in return for sometimes no more than 1,000 Egyptian pounds (about $150 USD).


The National Council for Women has addressed Interior Minister Major General Mohammad Ibrahim and Justice Minister adviser Ahmad Maki in the hopes of having appropriate measures enacted to ban the exploitation of women who already find themselves in dire circumstances – Syrians and Egyptians alike. The council’s report cited their statistic that at least 12,000 of these ‘tourism marriages’ have been recorded.


But according to Justice Ministry adviser Ahmad Salam, the ministry’s statistics indicate that only 170 Egyptian men have officially married Syrian women between January 2012 and the end of March 2013. This allegedly proves that thousands of marriages between Egyptian men and female Syrian refugees are not being officially documented, with the two parties merely holding a customary marriage or even saying they are married without there being any contract between them.


Undocumented marriages are promoted and sponsored by Salafist sheikhs and are often officiated in mosques.


No doubt the Muslim Brotherhood-led government will use their own statistics in determining whether or not any rights are being violated and, moreover, whether or not to enact any legislation aimed at protecting marginalized women.


This article is a translation of the original Arabic

The situation of women in Egyptian society has changed dramatically since the revolution - for better and for worse. (AFP photo)

“No doubt the Muslim Brotherhood-led government will use their own statistics in determining whether or not any rights are being violated and, moreover, whether or not to enact any legislation aimed at protecting marginalized women.”

  • Jacob the aggressive watcher

    ... And in Iran as well Trafficking women as long as it serves men. They really want to marry a virgin, but accept to pay for a poor Muslim girl a couple of bucks. What hypocrites. A big shame of Islam

    April 29, 2013

  • skhraishi

    I remember reading about this happening in Jordan as well.

    April 29, 2013