'Polygamy' soaps irk feminists in Egypt

Egyptian pro-women groups are disappointed that several TV serials being shown on local and Arab TV feature polygamy as a recurrent theme.

Gulf News

Cairo: Egyptian pro-women groups are disappointed that several TV serials being shown on local and Arab TV feature polygamy as a recurrent theme.

"I have been working in the field of women's welfare for more than 20 years and I have never seen so many polygamists in Egypt as portrayed in TV dramas," said Eman Beibers, the chairperson of the Association for the Development and Enhancement of Women.

At least seven television serials with polygamists are on the air waves every night of Ramadan - when viewing rates in the Arab world peak.

"These shows by no means reflect real life in Egypt where many young people cannot afford the spiralling cost of marriage," Beibers told Gulf News.

A similar furore erupted six years ago when Egyptian feminists reacted with anger to a widely popular television serial called Hajj Metwali which they accused of glorifying polygamy.

In the drama, the protagonist, played by celebrated movie actor Nour Al Sherif, keeps four wives at the same time - the maximum allowed in Islam.

"Soap operas, movies and other forms of entertainment should serve to promote the status of women rater than erode the gains women have made over the past decades," said Beibers.

Egyptian women have walked into almost all careers, which were once a male preserve, she said. Earlier this year, Egypt appointed 31 female judges for the first time in the nation's history.

One of the criticised "polygamy" serials is Al Masrawia (The Egyptians) in which the main character, a village mayor, marries three times.

"My serial tackles a certain era in Egypt's history when polygamy was common and affordable," said Osama Anwar Okasha, the writer of Al Masrawia.

Other issues

"So it is natural to feature it in the drama," he said in recent press remarks.

For Sawsan Othman, who heads the Family Support Association in Cairo, there are many other issues more important than polygamy, which should be addressed in TV dramas.

"For example, young people are unable to marry due to economic woes," she told Gulf News.

"Divorce is another vexing problem, especially if we know that a divorce case takes place in Egypt every six minutes," she added.

Delayed marriage and rising divorce rates, according to Othman, who is a sociologist, are to blame for many social problems such as rape, homeless children and crime.

"Tackling them in the media is more crucial than polygamy."

Days before the start of Ramadan, the Saudi satellite television station MBC banned the scheduled broadcast of its production Lel Khatia Thaman (The Price of Sins) after Kuwaiti Muslim clerics warned the serial would stir up communal sectarianism by casting Shiites, a Muslim sect, in an unfavourable light and tackling temporary marriage (muta) in a controversial way.