Social Issues

The high cost of love plunges women into debt in Egypt

By Aya Ragheb

Cairo, Oct 25 (EFE).- Farah Khattab’s bridal trousseau cost over $20,000, an expensive tradition in Egypt that plunges many families into debt but that some Sunni clerics are now questioning as the nation grapples with a deep economic crisis.

Khattab transported her trousseau in more than 10 trucks from her parents’ house to her future home in a celebration with dozens of relatives and neighbors who came to help, while her mother Amany Khattab served them food and drinks.

“Half of the trousseau that we bought for my daughter cost us almost 400 thousand Egyptian pounds ($20,400) and of course, there are more expenses with celebrations, food, cars to carry the trousseau… and that is normal in the town, since there are families here who spend much more,” Khattab, from Dalgamun, a town some 80 kilometers north of Cairo, told Efe.


The Egyptian Al Azhar university launched an initiative in June to tackle the high costs of marriage and end the excessive expenses of extravagant weddings, which include photo shoots and honeymoons.

Despite Egypt’s staggering 15.3% year-on-year inflation rate and a local currency that has lost 25% of its value since March, families continue to rack up debt for weddings, especially mothers who often buy their daughters’ trousseau on credit.

Some even end up in prison when paying back the debt is impossible.

Under Egyptian law, anyone who fails to pay what they owe can be sentenced to between 6 months and 3 years in prison – an issue that parliament is planning to revise.

Some 30,000 people in Egypt are “poverty prisoners,” which make up 35% of the female prison population, according to organizations working in the field.


Islamic tradition stipulates that the groom’s family pays a dowry and with that, the expenses of the trousseau are covered.

More recently, women have started footing half the cost in exchange for choosing and selecting the items to purchase.

But the reality is that the men who take on debt for wedding trousseaus work and can afford to pay them back, while women (mothers and girlfriends) often do not work and struggle to pay back the debts incurred.

“There are families who agree to divide the trousseau and buy together. I think that is better because, that way, you buy the essential and necessary items. Normally the bride buys a lot of luxurious and unnecessary things, but if the groom’s family goes along with the purchase, she can control herself a bit,” Khattab said.

The young woman added that there is social pressure to project an image and this can lead to excessive purchases by the bride and her family.


Sami Wahba, 28, who got married a month ago, told Efe that according to the customs of southern Egypt, his wife only bought kitchen furniture and crockery while he bought all the furniture and renovated the flat after buying it.

“We try to buy the practical furniture we need,” Wahba said proudly, but lamented that couples in Egypt are “forced” to meet “certain demands, like a big wedding and an expensive dress.”

Sociologist and professor at the American University of Cairo (AUC), Amro Ali, told Efe that many couples complain that these demands “are enforced by society.”

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