Would you rather find love in a hopeless place or start from scratch elsewhere? This innovative service might just be your ticket out of here.
Tucked away in a discreet street in Zamalek, far away from the busy heart of the island, we stumbled across an odd looking sign that simply read “Marry for Freedom: 2nd floor”. Intrigued, we decided to enter the building to see exactly what was on offer.
A greyish door was half-open, slightly exposing a titled head behind a little desk. As we flung the door wide open, the space finally revealed itself fully, so did the head. It belonged to a Mrs. Manal, a 20-something tiny woman who looked surprised to see us. She explained that they just opened a couple of days ago and that we were their first visitors.
Indeed, the space still looked a bit rough around the edges, as if it was hastily rented out and put together. But interior design wasn’t our main concern: we wanted to know what exactly was meant by “marry for freedom”.
When we asked, Manal seemed a bit flustered and told us to hold on for a second. She knocked at the door of the only other room in the apartment and we could hear a loud baroque voice barking “Aiwa ya Manman!” from the other side. When she entered, silence dominated for about 30 seconds before she came back out “Mr. Amr Rika can see you now”.
Inside, we were met by a chubby man with a moustache, standing cigarette in mouth, his hands extended to greet us with gusto. He barked again at Manal, asking her to make us some tea with “lots of sugar” before sitting back down and telling us to follow suit.
Which one of you wants to get married, he asked us. We decided to play along; it didn’t seem wise to say that we were investigating the place. My colleague raised his hand. Amr took a good look at him and said that the fee would be about 100,000 EGP. We were shocked. What possible service did this man provide that could justify such a hefty fee?
Then, the mystery began to unravel as the business model was explained to us in detail. What was meant by “freedom” was a Western passport. In a nutshell, Amr acted as a matchmaker for Egyptians who wanted to leave the country. Based on that person’s gender, age, physical traits and educational background, a fee would be calculated.
The younger and handsomer you were, the higher your value, the easier it would be to find a Western husband or wife and thus the less you needed to pay to find your soulmate. My colleague was 28, well-educated and looked relatively fit. Not Ryan Gosling fit, but hot enough to be able to navigate the rocky terrain of dating on his own.
So how does it exactly work?
1- An Egyptian comes in and his value is determined based on the aforementioned criteria
2- He states where he would ideally like to live, giving three options.
3- The Egyptian candidate is entered in a database, which is then matched with entries from the other side of the equation (Westerners looking to marry for money)
4- If a match is made, both parties are contacted and a meeting a set up via Skype.
5- If an agreement is reached, the Egyptian pays the fee to the Westerner and the agency in Zamalek takes a 15% cut.
The fee for a ticket out is high so Mr. Rika targets middle and upper class Egyptians who “do not see a future here”. He explained that before it was the poor who wanted to leave but now even those who are relatively well off want a way out “People are priced out of their past life with the devaluation, the stagnating salaries and the expensive real estate market. They’d rather start from scratch in a country where there is a safety net than drown in the new Egyptian model”
Although we all have heard (and understand) people getting married for a better life, we were shocked to see this practice being officialized and asked if it was legal. Amr admitted that they operate in a grey zone “Ultimately marriage is about consent between two parties. Whether that consent is formed through love or interest has been a recurrent theme for centuries. The only problem we are facing is the suspicion from Western countries of a sham marriage”.
How does the company combat it? They offer post-marriage counsel in which they advise the newlyweds of putting together a solid dossier “they must live together, go on vacation together, take pictures, learn about the other’s favorite things.”
When we asked Amr if he thinks it is weird to get married for just a passport, Amr was confident in his response. “Look, the majority of people in Egypt only get to know each other after marriage so how is this any different? At least here, the Egyptian gets freedom, and the Westerner gets money, and if the Gods are smiling, they just might also even get love in the end."