Marrying for your country: On institutionalized marriage and Egyptian nationalism

Thursday 18 January 201811:35 am
"Marriage is the cornerstone of manhood and a principle of national allegiance. A man who does not marry is like a deserter from the army: both betray their responsibility and duty to their nation. Manhood can only be attained through marriage," Mustafa Sadiq al-Rafi’i (1980-1937). Nationalism is the socially constructed idea, that functions through promoting patriotism and national pride. Nationalism creates a shared identity for those who subscribe to it, and is therefore like a contract between the state and its citizens. From the Founding Fathers, whose faces are literally etched in stone, in Mount Rushmore in the US, to the cedar of Lebanon, and the palm tree on the Saudi flag, different narratives, or stories, sustain the symbols, foundation and meaning of nationalism. In the Gulf States, for examples, a specific focus has been adopted in the formation of nationalist ideologies: unlike other Arab countries, the Gulf states did not exercise self-determination in the same way as other Arab countries did: no occupation, no resistance, and no identification in opposition to an imperial other. Their recent political history, instead, witnessed a series of rapid transformation. The newly created Gulf states tended to prioritize tribal identities and adherence to Islam as grounds of legitimization for the state. While keeping a dual focus on religion and westernization, however, countries such as Qatar and UAE, have exploited the economic growth they enjoy, and the benefits and privileges the state provides for the citizens, to back up the legitimacy of the ruling Sheikhs— a unique argument that is completely lacking in the Levant and North Africa. Historical context has heavily shaped how Arab countries deal with state-created nationalism. Gulf society which was previously governed by tribal affiliations is now more globalized. While countries such as Egypt and Syria have used history and tradition to endorse a notion of nationalism that embeds the present, despite its challenges, in the glories of the past. In her book For better, for worse: The marriage crisis that made modern Egypt, Hanan Kholousy examines the words featured in al-Rafi’i’s short story published in al-Risala, which was considered an influential Islamic weekly in thirties Cairo. Al-Rafi’i represented what cultural conservatives believed at the time: in order for men to fulfill their patriotic duty, they must marry and provide for their female compatriot. Al-Rafi’i tied what would later be labeled as the marriage crisis in Egypt (not the first or the last for the nation) to the construction of national identity. By questioning the patriotism of Egyptian single men, he urges the reader to re-evaluate what nationalism means to them. Egyptian nationalism has been created by ingraining the importance of family and marriage in everyday life, making it the bedrock of society. In Egypt, marriage is paramount in serving your nation in order to consolidate the well-being of future generations and in order to become a moral citizen and attain masculinity. One can especially notice the importance of marriage in Egyptian society in rural villages across the Nile Delta. A recent French documentary “La Fiancee du Nil” examined the pressure put on peasant women to quickly find a husband, highlighting how arranged marriages are still the norm in these conservative Egyptian communities. The documentary focuses on Heba, a young girl who, like many in her village, is forced to marry a man she did not choose. This societal expectation is derived from core religious duties that emphasize the importance of family life. As a result, marriage has become an institution due to the strong necessity and pressure to do so. After overthrowing the pro-British monarchy in Egypt in 1952, a degree of economic prosperity under Gamal Abdel Nasser effectively ended the marriage crisis, allowing the people to fulfill their national duties, under different configurations. In the early 20th century, the middle-class were not engaging in marriage due to a lack of incentives. Poor economic circumstances leads to inflation, unemployment and a lack of cash flow. Bachelors simply could not afford to pay dowries and fund a family, making marriage expensive and undesirable. Today’s factors behind the marriage crisis mirror those of the 1930s. The majority of people simply cannot afford to get married, stagnating their transition between adolescence and adulthood, creating a frustrated generation. Despite great emphasis on the importance of and desire to get married, the Egyptian people, primarily men, cannot afford to carry on marital traditions and serve the interests of their country until economic prosperity takes off. Links:
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