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The circle - Daily News Egypt

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The circle

Didn’t we have a revolution to make everything better?

Mahmoud Salem

Just the other day I was contacted by my good friend (whom we shall call here A) to inform me that he intends to marry his foreign girlfriend and mother of his unborn twins (we shall call her B) the next day. He asked me to be his witness during the officiation of the marriage. I was naturally honoured to be chosen, but also intensely curious, since he intended to have an Egyptian “civil marriage,” which is the same as the regular service but instead of going to an Islamic officiary to register his marriage, he would register directly with the Egyptian department of Justice. Given eternal my fascination with Egyptian bureaucracy, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to witness it in action, especially in a civil marriage situation. The experience that I went through with them, the one I will share in this column, has been nothing short of an affirmation of my commitment phobia.

When A first went to the department of justice, they simply informed him that they needed the couple’s ID, and her embassy’s approval of their marriage, confirming B’s citizenship, religion and marital availability. This required A to get papers from everyone that he knew stating that they knew him and could vouch for him, as well as all his personal papers,  and then go to our ministry of foreign affairs, to get them stamped. He then had to take the papers to a certified translator to translate everything, then go back to the ministry to get them stamped again, then take everything to the embassy to start the paperwork cycle and get the confirmation regarding B. The embassy took a month and a half to process the papers and interview them both, and then informed them that they can provide all the required information except the religion of B, since the government in question is secular and does not keep records of its citizens’ religion. So, in order to satisfy the requirement, B converted to Islam, to get that ball rolling. After finishing all the paperwork, they went back to the department of justice to finally get their marriage contract, a journey which I accompanied them on.

After submitting all the papers, and verifying that everything was in order, the government employee started to go ahead with the paperwork, when he noticed B’s baby bump, which started this exchange:

“You are pregnant?”


“Are you married?”


“Were you previously married?”

“Ehh… No!”

“Ehh… then how could you be pregnant?”

“I am not sure… It’s a mystery!”

It took the government official a few minutes to realise he wasn’t in the presence of an immaculate conception, before informing the couple that he cannot complete the paperwork unless they were originally married. After pointing out that this is insane, since they are there to get married, he informed them that they need to create an urfi (custom) marriage dated before the pregnancy so that he could give them an official marriage certificate. Ignoring the fact that the government employee is asking them to forge a piece of paper, they asked him how to get urfi-married immediately, to which he informed them to go to the bookstore in front of the ministry, where they sell the urfi marriage forms. So, we all went to the bookstore, bought the form, filled it in, and then submitted it. Satisfied that now the couple in front of him are officially not having babies out of wedlock, and thus not sinful infidels that should not enter his presence, the government official started asking B about the conditions she wants in her marriage contract.

B simply wanted to state in the contract that she has the right to travel with the children when she pleases, which the official informed her is illegal, since the contract cannot cover future conditions, and since there are no children yet, and she could miscarry, this clause could not be inserted. When she asked what she could include he informed her that she has the right to 1) Divorce him if she wishes 2) To work without his permission, 3) Travel without his consent and 4) Keep separate finances. He then assured her that Islam protects her right as a mother and that she will have equal control over her children by the law and religion, and when she asked him why he can’t add that to the contracts, he informed her because it would be illegal to do so. You figure it out.

After three and a half hours, and a ton of signatures and photocopies and paperwork, we were finally in the stage of printing the marriage contract and  signing it. The female government official handling that aspect noted our exhaustion, and then asked me what was the problem. When I informed her that the process simply took longer than originally anticipated, she told me “By the way, this is very quick. Did you know that had they come in two months ago, they wouldn’t be able to get the marriage certificate before a week of submitting their papers?” Astonished, I asked her what happened to change this. Was there a new law that we were not aware of? Or is the new minister maybe pushing for more efficiency? She snorted at the notion, and told me: “No. we are the ones that were bothered by it, and staged a meeting with upper management to change the delay, since it made no sense to delay people who wanted to get married.” “And they agreed?” I asked. She replied with a smile, as she handed us the marriage contract, “Of course. They had no choice when they realised we were all united on this. Didn’t we have a revolution to make everything better?”

Ahh, man. Faith truly gets rewarded in the strangest of places….

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