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Outrageously high prices raise divorce and violence rates in Egypt

August 29, 2023 at 8:17 pm

People are seen shopping in market street in Cairo, Egypt on 14 December 2016 [Chris McGrath/Getty Images]

A merciless father kills his wife in front of his children because of household expenses; a husband slaughters his wife because of household expenses in Mahalla; a teacher kills his wife because of household expenses in Shubra Al-Khaimah because of household expenses; a young man kills his wife in Aswan; an employee who killed his wife by stabbing her 10 times because of marital problems imprisoned; an Egyptian teacher ends his wife’s life because of Eid expenses; a wife divorces her husband after he was unable to provide for her.

These are all just examples of the headlines appearing in Egyptian newspapers and news websites, during the past months, amid stifling economic and social conditions and the difficult living conditions that Egyptian families have been suffering in recent years. 

The high cost of living, the insane rise in prices, the collapse of the local currency against the dollar and the decline in the purchasing power of the Egyptian citizen all exacerbate marital disputes and divorce rates in the most populous Arab country.

3 million divorced

Egypt records 240 divorce cases per day, at a rate of 10 divorces an hour, according to official data issued by the Egyptian Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre.

However, the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics estimates, in recent data, that a divorce occurs every 117 seconds (about two minutes), which means an average of 31 divorces per hour, and 739 per day, while the average number of divorces per month reaching 22,500 divorces in 2022.

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The total number of divorces in Egypt increased to 269,800 in 2022, compared to 254,800 divorces in 2021, an increase of 5.9 per cent, and 222,039 divorces in 2020, compared to 162,000 divorces in 2013, the year of the military coup in the country. This indicates that divorce rates grew during the presidency of current President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

In terms of the ratio of divorce to total marriages, Egypt recorded a significant increase in divorce rates during the last 50 years, from 7 per cent to 40 per cent, in which the number of divorced women reached more than 3 million. This is in addition to about 1 million cases filed in family courts. 

The Egyptian capital, Cairo, heads the top 10 governorates in terms of the number of divorces during 2022, recording 57,200 cases, followed by Alexandria (north) with 26,300, and Giza (near the capital) with 24,100 cases. 

Sharkia Governorate comes fourth with 19,000, Dakahlia fifth with 17,700, Qalyubia with 14,200, Gharbia with 13,500, Beheira with 13,000, Menoufia (Nile Delta) with 8,400, and Minya (south) in tenth place with 8,000 divorces according to the Egyptian Central Mobilisation and Statistics.

Growing poverty

Only a few minutes of waiting in front of family dispute settlement offices – which were established in accordance with Law No. (10) of 2004, as part of the steps to an amicable settlement that precedes the litigation stage in family disputes – are needed for one to observe the state of fragmentation within the Egyptian society. It has grown since the rule of Al-Sisi, driven primarily by economic reasons, including the inability to provide, growing poverty, rising unemployment rates, low wages, cutting subsidies and the collapse of the value of the local currency.

A member of the Committee for the Settlement of Family Disputes in an Egyptian Court, spoke to Middle East Monitor, saying that the deteriorating economic situation, high prices and the inability to provide are reasons that generally increase marital disputes and arguments, followed by one partner asking for divorce or one of the partners suffering physical abuse. 

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A few days ago, and following a disagreement over the household expenses, an Egyptian citizen shot his wife and four children, in the Warraq area of Giza Governorate (near the capital), which resulted in the death of the eldest son (22 years old), and the injury of the wife and 3 other children. They were taken to hospital in critical condition.

According to the investigations, the defendant receives daily wages, only getting paid on the days he works. A verbal argument took place between him and his wife because of the household expenses, which escalated to a physical fight, causing the oldest son to intervene. The husband then opened fire on his family, killing his oldest son and wounding the rest. 

Hassan R., 28, justifies how he beat his wife and later divorced her, saying that she often orders food from outside, which they cannot afford, and makes him feel helpless and powerless.

Stressful conditions

As soon as you type the phrase “kills his wife because of household expenses” into Google, you will be surprised with over 200 results, starring Egyptian citizens from various social groups and professions, but the common denominator is the obscene prices, inability to provide living expenses, violence and physical abuse, sometimes using sharp tools (for example, a knife) to end the dispute.

The accumulation of debts prompted Muhammad A., 35 years old, to sell the electrical appliances in his home in an attempt to pay off what he owed, which caused his wife to grow angry and object. 

An Egyptian lawyer spoke to the Middle East Monitor, saying that the current economic situation and the inability to provide living needs is the main reason behind most of the divorces that he handles as an attorney for the wife, noting that many cases of divorce are due to the fact that the husband is a wage worker (is paid on a daily basis). Therefore, the husband is unable to meet the needs of the household, causing more and more disagreements and conflict between couples and, as a result of the pressure, the husband may resort to physical violence. 

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He adds, after requesting that his name not be mentioned, that a family consisting of a husband and wife only requires 5,000 Egyptian pounds (about $162) a month, while the number doubles if there are two or more children. This is beyond what many people can provide, given the outrageous price tag that hit all goods and services.

Professor of Political Sociology, Dr Saeed Sadek, suggested, in a previous interview with Reuters, that a further increase in divorces among Egyptians is expected with the continued growth of economic pressures in the country due to inflation, the decline in the value of the local currency, the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the pandemic and the decline in tourism and other activities.

Collapsed currency

A few months ago, a member of the Egyptian Parliament, Aida Al-Sawarka, submitted a parliamentary question (a monitoring tool) to the Egyptian Prime Minister, Mustafa Madbouly, regarding the high divorce rates, and linked this change to the significant impact on citizens’ incomes resulting from the liberalisation of the exchange rate of the Egyptian pound in 2016.

The value of the local currency declined from 8.8 pounds to the dollar in November 2016, the date of the first flotation, to 30.09 pounds against the dollar, after implementing a series of decisions to liberalise the exchange rate, which exacerbated the deterioration of living conditions in the Egyptian street.

The Egyptian political researcher, A.A, attributed the increase in divorce rates to the severe economic crisis, the high rates of poverty, the decline in the purchasing power of the local currency and its collapse against foreign currencies, asking: How can a young man own or rent an apartment for thousands of pounds and, if he does so, how does he survive on the rest of his income which is exhausted by the monthly bills for water, electricity, gas, food, transportation, treatment, education and so on?

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“As a result of the outrageous price hikes and the collapse of the value of the local currency, Egyptians are exposed to a state of instability and severe psychological pressures that have resulted in serious societal phenomena, such as an increase in domestic violence, murders among family members, suicide and resorting to illegal immigration,” he added.

“Why has divorce spread (its rate has increased)?” This is the hashtag that was trending in Egypt years ago, in 2017. Inflation and high prices are at the top of the list of reasons for divorce and increased domestic violence, which may continue to remain at the top of reasons for divorce for years to come, given the country’s external debt increasing to more than $165 billion, by the end of the first quarter of 2023, and the failure of the Sisi government to rescue Egyptians from their suffocating economic crisis.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.