Soha Hossam, a 33-year-old pharmacist, had been too discouraged by her first marriage to think of marrying a second time. Hossam divorced in 2015, and although she has received marriage proposals since then, she could never bring herself to take the plunge a second time.
But a recent government program called Mawada (Affection) may help change her mind. The program, which aims to prepare would-be couples about challenges and difficulties of matrimony, will provide 30 hours of courses to young people on the problems of adaptation they may encounter as they try to harmonize their lives and on possible ways to cope, communicate and understand each other.
“When I think of how [unprepared I had been the first time], I think this is a very important program that every would-be couple has to go through. It would greatly contribute to helping couples deal with their problems at the beginning of their marriage or throughout,” Hossam told Al-Monitor.
Egypt’s ever-increasing divorce rates have long troubled the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, himself a vocal critic of divorce. Nudged by the president, various state bodies have launched a number of programs to keep Egyptians married ranging from establishing a special marriage counseling unit in Al-Azhar — the country’s highest authority on religion — to pre-marriage counseling, which would include sexual education for would-be couples by Dar al-Ifta, an institution that studies and interprets Islam.
The new program, which was officially launched March 15, will begin with a pilot project that will cover three governorates — Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said — that top the divorce rates in the country. After July, it will be extended to the whole country. According to data released by the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics in 2018, divorce rates increased by 3.2 % between 2017 and 2016 from 192,079 to 198,269.
The program aims to reach 800,000 people with 30-hour courses that would be free of charge. The Ministry of Social Solidarity, in cooperation with Al-Azhar and the Christian Coptic Church of Egypt, will carry it out. The key target will be people between the ages of 18 and 25, particularly those who are at university. However, government statements quoted by the local media imply that they would also be open to those who have concrete plans to marry, as well as those who may want to marry one day.
“The program will reach out to people who are planning to marry or are at the age of marriage. It will talk with them about everything related to marriage, including psychological, physical and emotional aspects and the problems that they could encounter during marriage,” member of parliament Mohamed Abu Hamed told Al-Monitor.
In a press statement Feb. 15, Solidarity Minister Ghada Waly said the program would also aim to reach people through a radio program called “With Affection, We Will Complete Our Lives.” A play on how to make a marriage work would also be produced on stage in state-run theaters, and short advertisements will be aired on television.
The content on the lessons, the plays and the program would be revised at the pilot stage, and changes will be made if necessary.
Abu Hamed said the project is a long-awaited move, as it would address two key problems — false expectations and a lack of education — that cause divorce.
“Of course, the reasons behind the rising divorce rates in the country are complex, but more awareness on what to expect may help,” he said, adding that the course should be obligatory — just like medical checkups before marriage.
Abu Hamed said economic woes, which also need to be addressed by the government, were also among the main reasons behind growing divorce rates in Egypt.
Mona el-Hadidi, professor of sociology at Helwan University, told Al-Monitor that the existing divorce rates might be low, as there are many people who remain married but live separately.
El-Hadidi said that such a program should also be included in the country’s educational curricula at elementary school. “Children should learn right from the start of their education about marriage and how to be good husbands and wives, [and they should] be prepared for the challenges they may face during marriage and how to deal with them,” she told Al-Monitor.
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