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“Beware of Egyptian Men,” says the Canadian Embassy

Back in December 2007, I was almost crucified for writing a post entitled: Relationshsips Warning: Do not date Egyptian Men. In that article, I said:

Because of the nature of my work in the tourism sector, I am used to hearing that this or that country has issued a travel warning to its citizens who plan on traveling to Egypt, especially in the aftermath of an attack. Naturally, most warnings address safety and security issues, and some warnings dedicate a section or two to hygiene and harassment. Lately, and because of the increasing number of divorces, custody issues, and domestic violence cases, some countries warn their women from Egyptian men. Yes, they tell them clearly not to get emotionally involved or legally committed to an Egyptian man!

Wandering Scarab - an Egyptian girl living in Canada – prior to her last visit to Egypt, decided to visit the Canadian Consulate website to register with the consulate in Egypt just in case her Canadian husband or her baby girl needed assistance with travel or local authorities. What she read on the site was appalling and ended up in her writing this post.

On the page specific to Egypt the first item displayed recent updates about major events in the country, like strikes and riots or disease outbreak, of which there was none for Egypt. So far so good. The second item displayed warning and recommendations where “EXERCISE HIGH DEGREE OF CAUTION” was in bold and highlighted in blue. I went on to read why the good people in the Foreign Affairs department think that I should exercise a high degree of caution. Among the many warnings, ranging from terrorist attacks and unexploded landmines to substandard medical care, there was this excerpt:

Women, particularly foreign women, are frequently subject to unpleasant male attention, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse. This often takes the form of staring, inappropriate remarks, catcalls, and touching. The Department publishes a booklet entitled Her Own Way: A Woman’s Guide to Safe and Successful Travel. Its prime objective is to inform Canadian women and encourage them to travel safely.

There are reports of female Canadian citizens being forced into marriage without their prior knowledge or consent. Parents, relatives and the community may use relentless pressure and emotional blackmail, threatening behavior, abduction, imprisonment and physical violence to coerce young people to enter into marriage. While both men and women experience forced marriages, it is a form of violence most commonly perpetrated against women. They have been unable to return to Canada, and their passports and money have been retained by family members. Canada opposes the practice of forced marriage and urges all countries to respect their international human rights obligations relating to free and full consent to marriage. Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation under several legal instruments, including international human rights law, to which Canada is a signatory.

The Wandering Scarab thinks that the fact that the Canadian government went though the trouble of creating and promoting such a booklet suggests:

a. they are not exaggerating about the warning, and

b. the incidents of harassment happen frequently enough that there had to be a public warning about them.

This is the first thing Canadian women learn about Egypt. How embarrassing and sad this is.

Trying to overcome her shock and sense of indignation, she was struck by a second clause:

Canadian citizens who were born in Egypt, or who were born outside Egypt to an Egyptian father, are considered citizens of Egypt. Consular assistance, if required, will be granted by the Egyptian authorities on a case-by-case basis.

In other words, because I have dual citizenship, Egypt has the right to refuse the assistance of the Canadian Consulate in the event that I need such assistance. Let me reflect on that for a minute… OK, so even though I'm a Canadian citizen, Egyptian authorities will treat me as an Egyptian citizen, which means that if something happens, I can be denied legal counsel, held without charge indefinitely, interrogated (tortured) in prison, and prosecuted in Egyptian courts.

How was this particular dilemma resolved?

After not much thought I did indeed register. However, I registered using my husband's name, since he does not have the Egyptian citizenship. I avoided putting my name on the forms like it was the plague.

In pursuit of my original cause; Egyptian men taking advantage of foreign women, I found Insteadi who is “a trailing Scottish bird in Cairo” who dedicated a post for the nature of the relationship between Egyptian men and foreign women.

I just read an interesting article from Egypt's Daily Star (nothing like the UK one!). It is about men looking for foreign (note they actually use the word ‘blonde') wives to finance them. I have seen this sort of thing time and time again here, with the foreign woman usually being a tourist when she ‘falls in love’ and not understanding that her beau could actually have ulterior motives. Why should she? He says such beautiful things to her, makes her feel so special, so wanted. He is so romantic (it's a shame she doesn't understand Arabic or she'd realize when song lyrics are being translated). Later comes the demonstrations that ‘he's not like that'. Frequently divorce is on the horizon. Soon after that, I don't know what happens with her, but he remarries: IT'S BUSINESS.

While I understand life in Egypt is tougher by the day, it surely can't be fair to enter a marriage you believe is for love, when the reality is that an entire family is plotting how to cajole you out of your money.

Words, beautiful or not, are cheap.

  • Lionne

    “Parents, relatives and the community may use relentless pressure and emotional blackmail, threatening behavior, abduction, imprisonment and physical violence to coerce young people to enter into marriage.

    How convenient all you men defending other men, pay no attention to the part the Canadian government is actually warning women about!! Guess what, most men elsewhere do NOT use abduction or physical force to coerce women into marriage.

    As for women’s sex tourism – ha! What is it, about one-tenth of one percent of male sex tourism?

    I guess you just don’t want women aware of your harmful ‘games’.

  • http://www.arabdemocracy.com arabdemocracy

    ‘Guess what, most men elsewhere do NOT use abduction or physical force to coerce women into marriage. ‘

    Maybe not into marriage. But surely into forced relationships, forced sexual intercourse etc etc.

    This is not about men defending men. It is about whether all Arab men deserve to be painted with the same brush by a prejudiced embassy official in a foreign country.

    Maybe we do have a lot to learn but comments like yours just stink of ignorant racism

    • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian C. York

      I agree that the warning is a bit harsh (as all embassy warnings are), and I don’t think that all Arab men deserve to be painted with the same brush, but having said that, I also know what living in an Arab country (Morocco) is like for a foreign woman – while it’s certainly not ALL men who harass, I can also say I never went a whole day without being harassed by at least two people (something that’s more like a once-a-month occurrence back home). No, not all men do it, but a high enough percentage do to call it a trend.

      • Nada J

        i agree with you Jillian ,ive been living in egypt for the past two years ,my mother is egyptian which is why i moved here in the first place
        i also go through the same thing ,every single day im verbally ,sometimes even physically harassed even in public
        and please whoever havent been to egypt or lived there,dont call my or anyone else’s comment racist because im only stating facts ….unfortunately

  • Sylvia

    I believe that if your gonna complain of one nations men then you must be racist.Because i really do believe that men from across the world not just Egyptian men are very much alike.”Yes”I also believe that men do tend to force women to do things like marriage or sex. however I don’t believe that Egyptian men should be the one to get the complaints if your gonna make warnings maybe it should be against men off all nationalities at least that way it won,t be such a racist comment

    • Ms.Canadian

      The Canadian embassy issued a warning specifically to those travelling to Egypt. They were not singling out Egyptians for any other reason than for the fact that it is a travel warning pertaining to Egypt. If they issue such warnings for Egypt, you can probably rest assured that they do the same for other countries and nationalities who face the same issues.

    • msdiver

      It’s not racism; it’s culture. I lived in Egypt for quite some time, and I can’t tell you how many times I saw young foreign women sitting with egyptian men, and these women were miserable. They believed all the sweet talk and got lost in the game. No doubt, his hands were in her pocketbook! A quote from an egyptian: “first you get in the heart; then you get in the wallet. Of course, not all egyptian men are like this, but it IS a problem there. They are poor and desperate. They are not able to marry because they don’t have money for a flat and the dowry, and they aren’t supposed to masturbate. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you know that all you can think about is food. Same for sex! Be careful, for sure/faalem!

  • Ms.Canadian

    I am a Canadian woman and I lived in Egypt for nearly 2 years. I think the embassy is right to issue that warning. It is not an issue of race or prejudices. It is about human rights and the law. It is a serious issue taking place in Egypt and it seems no one is doing anything about it. I have seen first hand what goes on between Egyptian men and tourist women in Egypt and I think it is great that some kind of authority, such as the Canadian Embassy, is speaking up about the issue – especially seeing as Egyptian authorities are unlikely to do anything about it. There is a serious lack of womens rights in Egypt (along with human rights in general) so it is good someone is at least issuing a warning for women, if nothing else. Getting trapped in Egypt because your husband has the legal right to keep you there and/or having your money stolen is a very serious issue that warrants a warning. Canadian women are not stupid. But we ARE socialized to trust in marriage and in the authorities because we come from a country where we can – but in Egypt, it’s a different story. This issue is not about racism. It’s about warning women of the different laws and legal matters surrounding marriage and the potential trouble they could find themselves in.

  • Mamdouh El Dakhakhny

    It is very simple .Don’t come to Egypt,instead of stereotyping both Canadian women and Egyptian men.If I adopt the same way of thinking I would start talking about young Egyptian men victimized by Canadian hags who are desperate for the attention of young men.Canadian women and Egyptian men are grown-ups and they are fully responsible for their behavior.Nobody gets married under coersion and a woman can always leave when she wants to.

    • Ms.Canadian

      Well let me just say, I’m not an old “Canadian hag”. I was 22 years old when I lived in Egypt. I am also an anthropologist so I think I have a little to say about different cultures and cultural relativism. The fact is the laws in Egypt can, in a sense, coerce marriage just for the fact that a man and a woman are not allowed to, for example, walk on the street together nor spend time/live together in an apartment without a marriage contract. Authorities will actually stop couples on the street (in some cities) to check for marriage contracts and door men do not allow co-habitation without a marriage contract either. Then there is the fact that once married, a woman cannot leave the country without her husband’s permission. We cannot forget that law. This is not about stereotypes. This is about laws and human rights. I agree with you about older women being with young Egyptian men – this is a common occurrence in Egypt. But who is taking advantage of whom? Are they not both taking advantage of each other? The young men are in it for money, a nice lifestyle, and maybe a visa to another country, while the women get whatever it is they are looking for. And the majority of those “hags,” as you call them, don’t seem to be Canadian I might add (not that it makes a difference). A woman cannot “always leave when she wants to” as you say. The laws are there. Read up on them. A woman cannot leave without her husband’s consent. And please do tell me how it is Canadian women victimize Egyptian men? We must remember this is not a war between Canadians and Egyptians. Human rights are human rights. And let’s not forget: women’s rights are human rights. When you are a woman, a wife, and married to a man in Egypt – then you just might understand.

    • keshna

      Please tell me this is true!! Can I really buy a husband??? :) Please let this be true by the grace and mercy of god :)

  • Ms.Canadian

    Well let me just say, I’m not an old “Canadian hag”. I was 22 years old when I lived in Egypt. I am also an anthropologist so I think I have a little to say about different cultures and cultural relativism. The fact is the laws in Egypt can, in a sense, coerce marriage just for the fact that a man and a woman are not allowed to, for example, walk on the street together nor spend time/live together in an apartment without a marriage contract. Authorities will actually stop couples on the street (in some cities) to check for marriage contracts and door men do not allow co-habitation without a marriage contract either. Then there is the fact that once married, a woman cannot leave the country without her husband’s permission. We cannot forget that law. This is not about stereotypes. This is about laws and human rights. I agree with you about older women being with young Egyptian men – this is a common occurrence in Egypt. But who is taking advantage of whom? Are they not both taking advantage of each other? The young men are in it for money, a nice lifestyle, and maybe a visa to another country, while the women get whatever it is they are looking for. And the majority of those “hags,” as you call them, don’t seem to be Canadian I might add (not that it makes a difference). A woman cannot “always leave when she wants to” as you say. The laws are there. Read up on them. A woman cannot leave without her husband’s consent. And please do tell me how it is Canadian women victimize Egyptian men? We must remember this is not a war between Canadians and Egyptians. Human rights are human rights. And let’s not forget: women’s rights are human rights. When you are a woman, a wife, and married to a man in Egypt – then you just might understand.

  • Mamdouh El Dakhakhny

    So Ms Canadian ,if you were really well-versed in Egyptian laws you would have known that the law concerning women taking their husband’s permission to leave the country has been rectified.Being an anthropologist doesn’t really give you the right to pass judgement on people without the necessary backgroung

  • Ms.Canadian

    It’s funny you say I am passing judgement on people when you used the term “Canadian hags.” I’m actually married to an Egyptian and have Egyptian citizenship. I also speak Arabic. So I am not aware that the law has been rectified because I am currently residing in Canada. I have no problem admitting that. I do however have law books on Women under Islamic law in Egypt direct from a well-educated lawyer from Egypt. When I stop my anthropological studies here, I will be sure to read up on them. I especially love the fact that to marry in Egypt, a couple needs 2 male witnesses or in place of one man, it can be two women. As though 2 women are equal to one man. Or in other words, a woman is considered as HALF a man. You sound well educated. Therefore, did you live in El Mehala, the small towns on the outskirts of Cairo, in villages, etc? Did you see the lack of women’s & human rights in Egypt or were you in the wealthier areas of Egypt that allow for more human freedoms and freedoms for women? Poverty keeps humans oppressed. Povery also keeps women and wives oppressed. Therefore, maybe the law has changed, but society & the economic situation has not necessarily followed suit. I am not judging Egyptian people. I study international studies, women’s studies and am a human rights activisit. I judge Canada for the deaths of indigenous women across our country as much as I do Egypt for it’s lack of human rights. Like I said, this is not a war between Canadians and Egyptians and it would serve you well to open your eyes and see that there are human violations not only everywhere in the world, but in Egypt as well. Women deserve at least a warning, if nothing else. If a woman is abused by her husband in Egypt, the Canadian embassy cannot help. All they can do is give her a list of lawyer. Here in Canada, we assume that if we’re being beaten in a country such as Egypt, while we are away from home, the embassy will come to our rescue. But unfortunately, it will not. So a warning is the least they can do. There is nothing wrong with it, especially when there are in fact, actual cases of what they warn about. Tell me, are these cases not true? Is the embassy lying? Please sir, if you have been to Egypt, you know exactly what the embassy is talking about and you are blind & ignorant if you say otherwise.

  • http://miloflamingo.blogspot.com Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

    I’m Canadian and came here over 20 years ago with my Egyptian husband, actually against his initial wishes as he’d emigrated to Canada but his businesses were taking too much time away from our family there. In my time here I’ve had the requests for advice from many young and old women of many nationalities regarding alliances (marital or otherwise) with Egyptian men…and also questions from Egyptian men (usually young) thinking of marrying foreigners. With the strength of family ties here, you don’t hear so much about young Egyptian women marrying foreigners…that is not so easy. I tell them all the same thing. Any marriage is cross-cultural since all families have a unique culture, but the wider the gap the harder the leap. Be sure to know the laws of the country where you plan to reside. When my husband died, I was quite astonished at how ignorant my Egyptian friends were regarding the inheritance issues.

    I have to laugh in a way at the embassy warning. I’m a warden here for the embassy and was quite unaware of it. The fact is that the women who come here looking for psychic and emotional regeneration are not likely to read it. I honestly haven’t had so many Canadian women ask me about marriage here, many more Brits, Europeans and a few Americans. Many of the really disastrous marriages were initiated when an Egyptian man was studying abroad and met a young woman who fell in love with him and thought that it might be a good match only to come here and find that the husband suddenly recalls conservative roots and reverts to a type that might be unfamiliar. Or they don’t realise that middle class in Egypt is not the same as middle class elsewhere.

    Most of the sex tourism here does seem to be older women and younger men and it isn’t always in the men’s favour. I heard of one European woman who managed to collect TWO young Egyptian husbands whose bills were being paid by her European husband…how’s that for a batting average? There are also plenty of bored expat wives who end up falling for a pair of pretty brown eyes and silky line…though they may not split up a household and sometimes they go through quite a few of them during their stays.

    I guess my thoughts are 1) Nice try, nameless bureaucrat. Most of the people who SHOULD read your warning won’t and the way you worded it was pretty bad. 2) Relationships come in all flavours and varieties but should be approached with open eyes and minds….something that all too rarely happens. 3) Maybe there should be a “User Beware” label on Egyptian men. They are attractive, very skilled conversationally, entertaining, demanding, generous, selfish, considerate, egocentric….gee, I think I just described about every interesting man I know of any nationality!

  • Ms.Canadian

    Hi Maryanne. My name is Crystal. I was actually in email contact with you about some articles you wrote I believe. Was that you? For some reason your name is familiar. I’m actually a young Canadian woman, 25 years. I’m also an anthropology major and human rights activist. Was your “Nice try, nameless bureaucrat” directed at me? If you want to know the truth, I went to Egypt to work when I was 22. Got involved with an Egyptian man and married him and ended up being badly abused, coerced to stay in the marriage, had my passport taken, my cell phone taken and my money as well. When I tried to ask the embassy for help, all they could do was tell me to get a lawyer. Being a naive 22 year old girl who had never travelled to such a foreign country in her life, and was socialized under the Canadian system with beliefs of “freedom” (ha, yeah right! I’m now a littlemore wise about our system). I had no idea about the laws in Egypt. I thought because I was a Canadian and being beaten and kept under lock and key at times that the embassy would step in and help me. They didn’t. That is why I advocate this warning, Maryanne. As a fellow woman who must see the harassment on the streets, etc. I thought you might do the same. You must know what goes on there. Yes, men abuse in all countries, but we know very well the laws in Egypt are different, not exactly always in favour of a woman or a foreign woman and when passports and money are being stole to keep her trapped, it’s a very different story. One that warrants a travel warning. I saw other women face the same issues in Egypt. I hear you about the sex trade and the older women with younger Egyptian men, etc. But that wasn’t my situation. Nor was I an ugly duckling coming to Egypt because I couldn’t get a man in my own country. As an anthropolgist, I was there for the culture and to work. As for being a “bureaucrat”? I don’t think so. I’d say I’m just a woman who believes in women’s rights and freedom from oppression and subordination. There are warnings for homosexuals, drinkers, drug users and on what style of dress to wear. Why shouldn’t there be a warning specific to women’s safety?

    • keshna

      Hmmm that’s funny, the same thing happened to me. except that I married an American and he held me hostage for almost 20 years! I was subject to every kind of abuse imaginable! No one negotiated my release I had to escape and make a mad dash across the US fleeing for mine and my children’s life from the rageful demon I married and finally escaping the US to freedom!

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