Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Out on an e-date

The number of marriages may be increasing in Egypt, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for people to find their future spouse, reports Heidi Elhakeem

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt saw 2.7 percent more marriages in 2012 than the previous year and there are no reports that suggest the increase has receded since. Still, not everybody finds their significant other the traditional way — arranged by relatives, through office co-workers or a friend of a friend.

Some Egyptians, either the helpless or the daring, are looking for alternative ways to meet their soul mates. Online dating is a new option. Using the Internet for dating should not come as a surprise. Egypt is the 14th country on the list of Internet users in the world, based on a report by the “internetlivesstats” website in 2014, with almost half of all Egyptians going online.

But dating, for some Egyptians, is considered a taboo, according to Dar Al-Eftaa’. Egypt’s top Islamic authority has issued a statement that strongly urges against online chatting between men and women, saying that it is considered “an entrance for Satan.” Muslims aren’t even allowed to date; in fact, men and women are not supposed to be alone together in the first place.

Nirvana Al-Sayad, a 28-year-old journalist, is still single and past the average age for remaining unmarried, according to societal norms. She says she won’t use online dating because that’s not the way she would like “to meet her future spouse.” But she believes it is only against Islam (haram) “if people are using it with bad intentions.”

Omar, 22, a German University in Cairo (GUC) graduate, who refused to share his last name, has been using an online dating provider for a couple of months. But he believes that online dating won’t work in Egypt due to “traditions”.

The online dating fad has become common worldwide over the past few years. For example, the American site eHarmony is proclaimed to be the “number 1 trusted dating site for like-minded singles” and “match” is said to be “the leading online dating website for singles.”

A website with a similar purpose started in Egypt in December 2010, with the domain name DateInEgypt, offering marriage and dating services. Martin Eisath created the site “in the hope of increasing tourism in Egypt, connecting foreigners with Egyptians,” and “to help them find someone to connect with” in an alien country.

DateInEgypt is “the most popular dating website in Egypt.” It is the “only website exclusively for Egyptians” and use of it is free of charge. “We don’t ask for money at all. We want people to benefit from the site,” Eisath adds.

It works simply by signing up with a working email address, choosing a username and password. After the email address is verified, the site asks users to fill in some information about themselves, their gender, date of birth, location, interests, religion and languages, among other questions.

It also asks users to write a short paragraph about themselves. The website asks users to upload their picture and to provide information about their appearance that includes height, weight, colour of eyes and the colour of hair.

Their appearance details are filled in by clicking on preset options, so that users cannot give meaningless answers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t lie or stretch the truth a bit. After that, users are asked to include information about “who are they looking for.” Users pick whether they are interested in men or women, the age range and the location of the person they hope to meet.

Eisath says the major obstacle they face in operating the site is detecting “spams and scammers” and adds that many users “try to upload fake pictures.” The site doesn’t allow any kind of sexual content.

When a user signs up the site automatically sends the new user a warning of the list of pictures that will not be approved, including “porn/nudity.” If a user uploads “adult content” or there is a report of “sexual harassment” the user is immediately banned from using the website, Eisath adds.

Sami — not his real name — is 40 years old and works in the advertising industry. He signed up for DateInEgypt less than a month ago. He is looking for a “no strings attached” relationship or sexual relations without getting into a serious relationship.

The site allows you to add and send private messages to the people you are interested in. Sami asks girls he is interested in to go on dates by sending them messages through the site.

Ali, also not his real name, is a 26-year-old Cairo University graduate who has been using the site for a couple of weeks. He has never been married and is hoping to find true friends or “someone smart and pretty to date.”

The trend of meeting people online has become more popular, especially in the pool of social media.

DateInEgypt’s greatest competitors are social media applications, or apps for short, like Badoo, Bumble and Tinder, which have become quite popular, especially among the younger generation.

The smart phone dating application Tinder is widely used between Egyptian males and females. The app allows you to look for people who are near your location, and you choose your preferences of how far or close you want them from you. Users swipe left or right based on whether they like someone’s picture or not.

A swipe to the left suggests a non-match between two people, which means that the person will not be allowed to get in contact with that person in any way. And a swipe to the right means that the two people have liked each other’s pictures, offering them the opportunity to chat.

Ahmed Abdel-Alim, 26, a petroleum engineer who started using Tinder for the purpose of meeting new people and “not just for dating”, met his girlfriend of two weeks through Tinder. Many believe that an app like Tinder is only meant for hook-ups and not for serious relationship seekers.

When asked how many times she has hooked-up with guys from Tinder, Salma, who declined to give her real name, said “countless times.” Omar adds, “Most people think it’s just for sex.” Hala, 30, is using Tinder to only make friends, and is “not interested in any kind of sexual relationships.”

Unlike DateInEgypt, users don’t need to give any information, as it is a Facebook-generated account. So if users don’t have a Facebook account they cannot sign up for Tinder. It transfers users’ Facebook data from their accounts, their pictures, age and interests. Each account contains an additional short biography, where users write a 500-word description about themselves.

Even if this online dating trend is growing, “many girls are afraid to take the step and meet in person with men,” adds Abdel-Alim. It might be surprising to know that men also have apprehensions about using online dating, fearing that they might come across fake accounts.

“People could lie about anything — about how they look, their age and even about their gender,” Omar adds.

Online dating is frowned upon among some segments of society. Nagwa Bashandi, an architect and the parent of two girls and two boys, says she wouldn’t like “any of her children” to use online dating because she fears for “their safety.”

Society puts heavy pressure on young men and women to get married. It is considered preferable for them to get married before the age of 30. If they haven’t met someone by their late twenties, they might be living a nightmare, constantly being nagged by their parents and judged by society.

This leaves them in a difficult situation, one that might push them to try out unconventional online dating without thinking of the downsides. After all, in Egypt, singlehood beyond a certain age is a ticket to social stigmatisation.

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