Wife backs polygamy as cure for social ills

Cairo, Egypt — Hayam Dorbek wants her husband to get married. Again. In urging him — and the rest of Egypt — to be more open to polygamy as approved by Islam, the 42-year-old journalist has set off a lively debate in her country and the rest of the Arab world tuning in on satellite TV.

Dorbek says she felt her work was keeping her so busy that her husband needed a second wife. She says he refused, “but my son is helping me promote the idea,” she said.

She feels the Islamic concept of polygamy is the answer to many of Egypt’s social ills. She has written articles with titles like “One wife is not enough,” and has helped form an association called “Al Tayseer,” or facilitation, that promotes polygamy.

Some are furious, saying it makes Egypt look like Saudi Arabia and is bad for women — tantamount to “displaying them in a slaves’ market,” according to Nihad Aboul Qomsan, head of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights.

“I’m calling for women’s rights: their right to get married even if to a married man,” Dorbek said.

To familiar problems of family life such as adultery and divorce, Dorbek adds “spinsterism” — women remaining single into their 30s, and being possibly stigmatised as easy prey for men or temptresses preying on men for sex.

Her solution: hitch single, widowed or divorced women to married men who can financially support and equally provide for more than one family. This will stop the men from having affairs and provide the women with a caretaker, she argues.

“The secular currents in society muzzle the Islamic voices and drown them out,” Dorbek said.

But Dorbek acknowledged that opposition doesn’t just come from secularists or rights activists, but also from some religious people who believe there are strict conditions for polygamy.

She says she had a religious upbringing and decided to go public about polygamy after a friend told her she was considering divorcing her husband for secretly taking a second wife. Dorbek recalls telling her: “Why would you destroy your home and solve one problem by creating another?”