“Once,” the Iranian comedian Mehran Modiri notes, “our marital relationships were formed over long distances. An Iranian man would explore the world abroad with his father’s money. When the money ran out, he would suddenly miss home-cooked qormeh sabzi and ask his family to send him a pure Iranian bride, so innocent she has seen neither sunrise nor sunset.” Today, Modiri continues, Iranian marriages are long-distance even when the couple is in the same room: “The husband is on Facebook while the wife watches Turkish serials. He might be 90 years old, and she’ll be on Instagram. He orders out for dinner, but she’s on a diet. The children are away at nursery school.
On a brisk autumn evening in 2010, male coffee shop patrons in the upscale Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek were treated to the sight of young Chinese women in miniskirts circulating to hand out brochures for a new massage parlor. It was an unusual sight indeed for Egyptian public space — both the women’s attire and the presence of so many Chinese. Besides a small number of Chinese Muslim students at al-Azhar University, Chinese immigration to Egypt is a very new phenomenon.
In August 2006, a 27-year old pharmacist started blogging anonymously about her futile hunt for a husband in Mahalla al-Kubra, an industrial city 60 miles north of Cairo in the Nile Delta. Steeped in satirical humor, the blog of this “wannabe bride” turned into a powerful critique of everything that is wrong with how middle-class Egyptians meet and marry. The author poked fun at every aspect of arranged marriage — from the split-second decisions couples are expected to make after hour-long meetings about their lifetime compatibility to the meddling relatives and nosy neighbors who introduce them to each other. She joked about her desperation to marry in a society that stigmatizes single women over the age of 30. She ridiculed bachelors for their unrealistic expectations and inflated self-images while sympathizing with the exorbitant financial demands placed on would-be husbands. Thirty suitors and four years later, the pharmacist remains proudly single at 32, refusing to settle for just any man.
There is a general perception in Egypt today, shared by fans and many critics, that “old” Egyptian films depicted sex more tastefully than recent films. The following passage by critic Hisham Lashin is typical:
Until approximately the middle of the 1960s, the Egyptian cinema treated the subject of sex with extreme caution, without frankly depicting it. There was an exaggerated delicacy, an excessive romanticism, in the way such films as Salah Abu Sayf’s Shabab Imra’a (A Woman’s Youth) dealt with this type of sensitive relationship. 
With only approximately 6 percent of married women in Yemen living in polygamous marriages, such relationships are neither popular nor widespread. Nevertheless, polygamy in Yemen remains a complicated issue.
Marie Rose Zalzal is secretary general for Tayyar al-‘Ilmani (Movement for Secularism) and a practicing lawyer in Abu Rumana, Matn, Lebanon. Part of a research project on the impact of Lebanon’s civil war (1975-1990) on women, the interview was conducted by Suad Joseph on September 29, October 6 and December 19, 1994 and updated on February 11, 1997.
What is the Tayyar al-‘Ilmani?
Michel Khleifi, born in Nazareth in 1950, studied theater and cinema at INSAS in Belgium, where he currently resides. In 1980, Khleifi directed his first film, Fertile Memory (al-Dhakira al-Khasiba). Khleifi received international acclaim following Wedding in Galilee (‘Urs fi al-Jalil, 1987), which won the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. His other films include Maloul Fete sa Destruction (Malul Tahtafil fi Dimariha, 1984), Canticle of the Stones (Nashid al-Hajar, 1990) and L’Ordre du Jour (1993).
I, the undersigned, give full power of attorney to the embassy of the State of Palestine to do everything possible to get my daughter, Laila, student at the University of Sanaa, College of Education, out of Yemen. I certify that she is not allowed to marry in Sanaa since she is still married to her husband, K., in Saudi Arabia. Please note that she is not responsible for any of her actions since she suffers from serious health problems and mental disorders. Signed in the presence of two witnesses, March 13, 1994.
The Egyptian family is changing in significant ways, modified by the social and economic realities of everyday life which are in turn affected by changes in the local and international economy. Extended family living arrangements are declining in favor of nuclear families, which now account for 84 percent of all households.