MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Young love isn't all it's cracked up to be for young Egyptians. Many can't afford to get married. Egypt, a country of more than 90 million people, is suffering its worst financial crisis in years. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports, rising prices are putting a huge damper on love and marriage.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: It's evening in the working-class neighborhood of Shubra el-Kheima. Children dart between cars in the crowded streets. In a small concrete apartment building off a crowded alley, a young Egyptian woman, Sharouk, has just come home to her mother. Sharouk has worked at a factory since she was 12. She's 20 now, and she'd really like to get married, but she's had two engagements broken off because she didn't have enough money. It's so embarrassing for her family, she doesn't want her full name used.
SHAROUK: (Through interpreter) Of course I was upset. It can't be twice that this happens to me. I cried and collapsed because of it because I don't have what I need to get married.
ARRAF: In her working-class community here, the groom provides the apartment but the bride buys appliances. Sharouk's mother, Samiha, says the engagements fell apart over a fridge and stove.
SAMIHA: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: She says a refrigerator now costs the equivalent of about $1,300. Even installments would be about $300 a month. That's more than Sharouk's monthly salary. When Sharouk's mother told them it would take more than a year to raise the money, first one suitor and then the other broke off the engagements. She says families are more demanding now than when she got married.
SAMIHA: (Through interpreter) They insist on a fridge and a washing machine and a gas stove. They want a television. They want a freezer.
ARRAF: Sharouk is now engaged for the third time to a man who's willing to wait until she can save money. And when she does get married, Sharouk will have to leave Cairo for the countryside. Her dreams of a good husband are simple ones.
SHAROUK: (Through interpreter) He should be respectful. He should be a good person and protect me.
ARRAF: All that, though, takes enough money to get married in the first place. We go into the tiny kitchen, and Sharouk's mother opens a battered fridge.
SAMIHA: (Foreign language spoken).
ARRAF: There are a few tomatoes in a black plastic bag and a few peppers. The price of everything has gone up, and even those are expensive. Samiha tells me, as you can see, the fridge is empty. Egypt's ongoing economic crisis is also putting a strain on Egyptians who are already married. At the huge central agency for statistics, figures show that divorce rates have doubled over the past 10 years.
AMAL FOUAD: I think from my knowledge, economic reason is the main reason for the marriage dissolution.
ARRAF: That's Amal Fouad. She's in charge of population research. She says more divorces are being initiated by women partly because husbands are having a harder time supporting their families.
It's a weekday night, and this cafe is full of young guys playing pool. Some of them are university students, and they have big plans for their futures. All of those plans involve getting married. But even now, they're worrying that they won't be able to afford it.
KARIM MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) There is someone. I loved her for a long time. She loves me, but she kept saying she wanted me to propose to her. I thought when I start university, I can propose, but even an engagement needs money.
ARRAF: That's Karim Mohammed, an accounting student. In this solidly middle-class neighborhood of Heliopolis, Karim says even a small party, and the gold jewelry he would need to buy, would cost more than $3,000. So he and the woman he loves recently broke up.
MOHAMMED: (Through interpreter) She kept asking me, when are you going to propose? But I didn't promise her anything because a real man keeps his promises.
ARRAF: For Karim and his friends, those promises will have to wait until they have money. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Cairo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.