The Straits Times, Singapore, OCT 12 1998

Part time marriage the rage in Egypt

Unorthodox but legal, this form of wedlock provides solace and social status for women who would otherwise remain as spinsters

CAIRO -- Egyptians seeking to tie the knot but not too tightly, are opting increasingly for "passers-by" marriages in which the husband visits his wife occasionally but never stays the night.

"In traditional marriages the bride leaves home to live with her husband, who must meet all the financial needs of the family. In this union, it is the opposite," said Cairo attorney Selim al-Awa, who specialises in Islamic law.

"The husband is exempted from any financial obligation and visits his wife periodically," he said.

This unorthodox coupling, which has grown in popularity in recent months and become the subject of much debate in Egypt, appears to get around the age-old problem of eligible women turning gradually into spinsters when no man asks for their hand. Said the attorney: "Tradition calls for unions to be made within the family circle, and this limits a girl's chance to find a husband.

"As a result, many become old maids."

Being married also gives women a higher status in an Islamic society. Ms Nahid, 46, formed a passers-by marriage to become the second wife of a married man.

She said: "The concierge, the grocer and the neighbours show more respect towards me now than when I was single.

"It suits me fine. I have to travel a lot because of my work, and not having a husband at home means I'm not tied down and can move when the job calls."

The interpreter said she sees her husband three or four times a week.

That kind of convenience is appealing to more and more Egyptians of both sexes.

Newspaper columnist Salah Muntasser said that after she wrote about a woman looking for a passers-by marriage, she was deluged with letters from readers.

"Most of the comments I received were favourable," she said.

Popular preacher Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi, whose opinion is followed widely, said recently he would tolerate the passers-by marriage.

"This marriage is lawful even if it is not accepted by society. I do not encourage it, but I cannot prohibit it," he said.

And, perhaps even more than in traditional unions, passers-by marriages include their fair share of compromise. Said Ms Nahid: "A normal marriage would have been better but sometimes you don't have a choice.

"I worked hard to build a career and this was my priority. But when you get to a certain age in this society you must make a concession.

"Marriage is a form of protection for women." -- AFP