Columnists Features

The Egyptian marriage culture

NKOLE NKOLE, Cairo
THE setting is Dar El Modaraat Hotel, Salah Salem, Nasr city, Cairo. Sometimes as often as three consecutive nights each week, Egyptian weddings are held here.
The wedding music can be heard across the hotel’s hallways, even from its highest floors. While the hotel’s tenants wait to be served dinner, they are often entertained by the wedding festivities.
On this specific night, the bride is led down a flight of stairs inside the hotel by her father, who holds her hand as the wedding guests cheer in the background and follow right behind.
She is then led to her waiting groom, who takes her hand, evidently charmed by her beauty.
Afterwards, she and the groom are serenaded by the sound of music from hired band players as they make a slow walk to the hotel hall.
The wedding guests, all decked out in their most stunning attires, happily sing and clap along.
The bride is the centre of everyone’s attention, including the hotel residents who have now formed a small group of curious observers.
Some take out their mobile phones and begin taking pictures of the bride and groom. Before long, camera flashes mingle with the light in the hallway.
The Dar El Modaraat Hotel, is a popular venue not just for Egyptian weddings but also for residents drawn from different parts of the world.
It is these guests who take particular interest in the different weddings held at the hotel nearly each night save for the weekend.
Egyptian culture dictates that a man and woman are not to date before they marry. However, there are still occasions where Egyptian men and women have a chance to meet each other, for instance at a workplace or school.
“In such circumstances, it is possible that a young man and woman may fall in love and desire a marital union,” Union of African Journalists (UAJ) secretary general Samia Abbas explained.
These marriages are traditionally opposed, although the family will usually relent if the couple remains committed to the idea, as long as both the man and woman are of the same social and educational status.
Egypt’s population is 94 percent Sunni Muslim, therefore the culture of the country is highly influenced by traditional Muslim practices.
This includes areas pertaining to marriage, although Egypt is less traditional in this area-particularly in the relationship of a couple before marriage-than many other traditional Muslim countries.
In circumstances where a young man and woman fall in love after interacting at school or in a workplace and desire a marital union and the families eventually approve, the marriage process is started.
Outside of the love match, Egyptian weddings are arranged with the families of both bride and groom making inquiries of friends and relatives, and neighbours as to the other’s standing and conduct.
“If a union is deemed suitable by both families, the man and woman are permitted to meet and begin socialising. If they like each other, several more meetings with families are arranged and an engagement party organised. At this party, the groom will give the bride an engagement ring,” Dr Abbas shared.
During the marriage ceremony, the marriage contract is signed by the groom along with the family of the bride.
There are also members of both families present as witnesses although the bride is not present in the room. Instead she waits in a separate room and the contract is brought to her for approval.
The ceremony itself follows traditional Muslim practices, including reading passages of the Quran.
“It may take place in a mosque, a secular establishment such as a hotel or at the home of one of the couple’s family,” Dr Abbas shared.
This is the image that becomes familiar to residents of Dar Elmodaraat Hotel whenever there is a wedding taking place in the hotel.
Before the bride and groom can enter the wedding hall, they are also entertained by a Tanoura, which is an Egyptian folk dance performed by Sufi men or Darawish.
The men wear long colourful skirts which are sometimes decorated with lights that the Tanoura will turn on at some point during his performance.
The addition of the lights is a new thing, according to journalist Ayman Abdelaziz, and also a tricky thing if something goes wrong with the lights.
The dance usually involves the Tanoura spinning in an endless motion so that the different colours of his skirt are displayed.
He will stop spinning when he is finally tired or if the audience has had enough. As he turns, his skirt gets wider and wider, demonstrating the full length of it.
He also carries a “Mabkhara” which releases incense while placed above people’s heads. The tanoura will place it above the heads of guests and also above the heads of the bride and groom for entertainment.
As he spins, the bride and groom and all wedding guests present clap along in joint merriment. At intervals, the bride and groom may dance together while on their way into the wedding hall.
Finally after the long serenade, the wedding guests usher themselves into the hall to carry on the festivities well into the night with the help of some food and drink.

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