Friday, January 13, 2012

Letters from Egypt: My Mohamed is Different

Image from
“My Mohamed is Different,” or MMD, as told to me by a friend of mine regarding foreign women dating Egyptians (alternately, I prefer MAD - My Ahmed is Different). We’ve all heard the stories, and unfortunately, you find very few successful situations regarding a union between a foreign woman and an Egyptian man. And it doesn’t matter how many times you may try to shield someone from entering into a less-than-pleasant situation, all the women turn and say: “But My Mohamed is different.”

And should you continue to believe in the MMD ideology, there are some precautionary measures that a female can take to ensure that her rights remain intact should the marriage end. First of all, you need to do your own research into laws and your rights as not only a female, but a foreign female (the same is true for foreign men).

One foreign woman, Kirsten*, married Mohamed* in 2001 and was pregnant with her first child just three months later. She said that once children became involved, her life took on a new role. She had given up on her husband and instead directed her energy toward her children. “The time when the man treats you well, buying you [special] gifts and [going out of his way] all changes once you’re married,” she said. In 2009, Kirsten found out Mohamed had cheated profusely during the entire duration of their marriage. She opted to leave him and began divorce proceedings in the beginning of 2010 (it was not finalized until November of that year).

While this scenario plays out in our own countries, being in a foreign land exposes you to a new ballgame.

Kirsten wishes that she would have known certain things prior to marriage, including having the option to live with Mohamed. “I wish I’d held off on having children until I knew my rights more.” Had she held off on having children, Kirsten believes she would have left the marriage after the first year. In the West, extended family does not play as much of a role as it does in the Arab world. Kirsten pointed out how in Egypt, the extended family plays a role to the “point of interference.” She said, “If the husband has done something wrong, it’s the wife’s fault. If the wife has done something wrong, it’s the wife’s fault. Even if [the husband’s family] know that he’s in the wrong, they will always take his side.”

She even discussed how one member in her ex-husband’s family tried to convince her to work things out despite the husband’s numerous indiscretions. Finally when Kirsten refused to budge on the matter, the female family member suggested that if the man felt the urge to cheat, he should have just married a second wife. An interesting tidbit you may not know: Egyptian men may only marry once if he’s marrying a foreigner although the Qaran states that a man may have up to four wives. Egyptian women are supposed to be informed by the Ministry of Justice prior to marriage to confirm her acceptance of being wife number two, three or four.

Marriage in Egypt 101
If you are still convinced that marrying Mohamed is your path, get an independent lawyer to consult prior to marriage. You need to understand what marriage in Egypt means and your rights. There is a specific office at the Ministry of Justice that deals with foreigners.

Men must pay a dowry, set by the female, before a legal union. In 2001 the minimum dowry payment was LE 1 (equivalent to $0.02), but that has since changed due to the large amount of Egyptians marrying foreigners to escape the financial burden of marrying a local. A study was released by the Ministry of Family and Population Center that found an increasing number of young, Egyptian men marry foreign women who are 20-30 years older.

According to the study conducted by Dr. Izat Ashmawi, over 17,000 marriages between young Egyptian men and older foreign women were registered in 2010 compared to just 195 in 2000. That is an 8700% increase over the past 10 years!

Estimated Registered Marriages**
**Registered marriages between Egyptian men and foreign women 20 to 30 years older

Economist Dr. Hamdi Abdul al-Adhim told Al Arabiya, “Many families welcome such a marriage because it does not require a ready apartment for the bride or expensive dowries; foreigners only look for emotional fulfillment especially the ones who are older.”

While that’s great, ladies – you deserve to know the truth as to what you may ask for and what to put in your marriage contract. Love is only blind for fools. In Kirsten’s case, she said that when going to the Ministry of Justice to file for her marriage license, the rules of the contract and dowry were glossed over with the official even saying, “Just put LE 1, that’s what most people do.” That is NOT what an Egyptian would do and nor should you!

Kirsten detailed three main points that a woman (local AND foreign) may put into a marriage contract:
  • A woman has the right to divorce her husband and keep the dowry and other offerings
  • A woman has the right to travel freely with any children from the marriage
  • A woman has the right to work

There are some things that you may think you want in the contract, but are actually already a part of Egyptian law:
  • If divorced, a man has to support the children which include the cost of living, school tuition and other expenses

However, there may be a problem with the Egyptian version of child support. Kirsten said that sometimes a man will get a false certificate from his job’s human resource department that lies about his income, ie claiming his monthly income is only LE 1,000 ($167) and therefore cannot afford the requested LE 2,000 ($333) in child support.

If filing for a divorce, a foreigner is required to have a qualified translator (although you would think this would also be required when filing for a marriage license). Kirsten attempted to bring her own, although the Ministry of Justice refused to accept him despite his qualifications, probably to force her into appointing one directly from the Ministry in order for the government to obtain the costs.

Also know that no matter what nationality or religion, a woman is awarded custody of the children. This is made null should the woman remarry or have relations with another man. Beware that while the only time custody may change is if the man can prove you are an unfit mother or if you remarry/have relations with another man, Kirsten said, “Never underestimate a pissed off ex-husband.”

One woman in Cairo found that out the hard way. Her ex-husband caught her with another Egyptian man and not only took away their children, had her and the Egyptian man arrested. The foreign woman spent months in jail until her place of employment finally worked out a deal with officials for her release. She is still unable to see her children.

Basic lesson is to learn your rights. Asking for a particular amount of dowry in addition to placing other pertinent details in your marriage contract does not mean you love your spouse any less (like wanting a prenuptial in the US). And don’t forget the Egyptian turnaround as I’m sure the next thing out of Your Mohamed is Different’s mouth: “I guess you don’t love me as much as I love you because if you did, you wouldn’t need all of these things.” Your response to that should be, “Well, if you don’t screw up then we won’t have to worry about it will we?”

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

Disclaimer: I am not advocating that all women are perfect. I will write a future blog on one marriage still going strong between a foreign woman and her Egyptian husband. There are anomalies in every situation, but very few standalone success stories of foreign women marrying Egyptian men. Take this into considering next time you say MMD.


  1. LOL! I don't think your friend coined this term, I heard two Irish women using the same term in Dahab!! Although I suppose it is a fairly universal situation :p

  2. I've heard that saying before as well - even in different languages :) Your post is so, so true! It should be mandatory reading for any foreign woman wanting to marry an Egyptian man.

  3. I thought about saying My Ahmed is Different (MAID) just the other day. I'd never heard the phrase before, but it is most definitely true either way - old or new ;)

  4. This was great reading for me, since I'm engaged to an Egyptian man. Thanks for this post! Keep up the good work :)


  5. I think the key issue is that women may fall in love with a foreign guy but don't look at the full picture. Is he in the same economic class as you? Does he share the same values? I'm happily married to an Egyptian who fits into my social life back home and my economic lifestyle both here in Egypt and home. Once I met his parents multiple times they said they loved me to the point that they would take MY side in an many families look at the woman's side vs. the man's. Find out what the guy's job is ASAP...find out the class his family comes from. While we Westerners like to think we are morally above examining class or race, it really makes a difference here in Egypt in a lot of factors - many of which are the treatment of women or expectations of foreign women. This is where I've seen relationships fail. And of course, always do research regarding marital laws and dealings with children...that's just smart if you're going to be married abroad.

    1. Thank you for your well-written thoughts. I do have one comment on the heels of your response. I am glad that you mentioned social class because you’re right – as Westerners, we are taught not to judge based on the class system. And you do need to recognize that it is different here. However, it does not matter about the money in many cases. You will find that some of the more affluent Egyptians are still very closed minded, so it needs to be highlighted that perhaps you did not mean “new money”. And if someone isn’t looking at the social class, they may not recognize new money in a different culture.

      Staying within your economic class does not mean you carry the same ideas. Money doesn’t buy anyone class (or liberal thinking) and no matter what culture, or if you stay in your own culture, if you marry for money then you can anticipate problems. The lesson is to recognize warning signs early on into the relationship (these rules can apply across borders). Recognize how your partner treats servers at restaurants or employees, recognize how your partner drives (in Egypt, if he drives fast with little to no regard for other motorists, it’s a good indicator that is how he lives his life), recognize certain comments that may seem insignificant at the time but could lead to larger problems once married, etc. Above all, as I stated and you reiterated, know your rights. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work out for some people, there are always exceptions; however, that doesn’t mean that anyone should live their life thinking that they are always the exception to the rule rather than the rule itself.

  6. I advise to sit and write down everything you really want or expect in a Marriage and include what youd expect to NEED in a Divorce ( like total support for 1 year ) At this point consider theses WISHES to apply to any Suitor...and see if it adds up ! You CAN attach 2 Actual Bank Checks for 50,000. Le each to guarantee your rights...but leave Those papers w your dad or a friend for safe keeping...

  7. Your comment " An interesting tidbit you may not know: Egyptian men may only marry once if he’s marrying a foreigner although the Qaran states that a man may have up to four wives." is not true. If an Egyptian man is marrying a foreigner at the ministry of justice then when they go to HER embassy to get the statement of no objection his id must say single. But after that he can do what he wants and have his three Egyptian wives

  8. Egyptian guys are always after something whether it's sex, money or your passport. Never trust an Egyptian.