We speak to three Egyptian wives who share their husbands’ hearts, revealing that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to polygamous marriages in Egypt.
Shunned and outlawed in most countries, polygamy is a phenomena that still exists in many Arab and Muslim countries around the world. The practice of having more than one spouse, up to exactly four, is allowed in Islamic religion under varied justifications. Almost two decades ago, a hit TV comedy series, Al Hag Metwaly, depicted the life of a wealthy Egyptian man who is happily married to four different women, with approval and even blessing from each of them. What most don't know is that, despite its fictional nature, the show served as an actual representation of the lives of many Egyptian women, albeit their realities are naturally less comedic.
"Initially I completely rejected the idea," tells us Shaima, a young Egyptian woman whose husband took a second wife when she couldn't get pregnant after eight years of marriage. "After that I tried to think logically, and I found that what he's asking for is not shameful or haram. When I reached that conclusion, I was no longer upset. Actually, I was also helping him find a suitable wife," she continues.
It's an entirely different story. When my second husband married me, it wasn't an insult to his first wife because I come from from a better family and a higher class
Shaima's family, on the other hand, were wholeheartedly opposed to her husband's wishes. But that didn't stop her from supporting his choice.
"At first, she was nice to me and wanted to befriend me. But after she realised that my husband actually trusts me and treats me equally, her other side started to surface," explains Shaima, whose struggle was further deepened after her husband's second wife gave birth. "You think you're something just because you're pretty. But I'm the mother of his children," she continues, bitterly. "But in this day and age, 'spinsters' are everywhere, so it's even preferable if men can marry two or even three women given they would be fair to all."
Hayam, a successful architect, has a drastically different story. After a marriage which lasted for a decade, her husband married their nanny behind her back. Her reaction was swift and definitive; instant divorce. Ironically enough, a couple of years later, Hayam accepted a marriage proposal from a married man.
"It's an entirely different story. When my second husband married me, it wasn't an insult to his first wife because I'm come from a better family and a higher class," explains Hayam. "But my first husband married a woman who's not from the same standard as I am, which was humiliating to me."
While Hayam doesn't live in the same house as her husband's wife, Rabab, a 23 year old newlywed, has a different story. Living with and caring for her husband's first wife along with her five children is something she is absolutely at peace with, but her living situation comes with an end date.
"At first, I refused to be a second wife under any circumstance. But when he revealed to me that his wife's days are numbered on account of her advanced breast cancer, I began to see it from a different angel," explains Rabab, whose husband's first wife passed away a few months after her wedding. "When my husband jokingly suggests he might take another wife, I get really upset and I would never accept it. My situation was completely different," she elucidates.
*Names have been changed to protect the interviewees' privacy.
Originally Published on El Fasla.
Translated by Moustafa Daly.