‘Two Girls From Egypt’: Perils of spinsterhood

Director Mohamed Amin’s latest release, Benten Min Masr (‘Two girls from Egypt,’ 2010) showcases the social pressure that Egyptian youth are often subject to. starring Zeina and Jordanian actress Maha Mobarak, the film tackles the problems of spinsterhood, unemployment and illegal immigration.

Spinsterhood is on the rise in Egypt, where many women stay single into their thirties and beyond. However, some 40 percent of Egyptian marriages end in divorce. Within this context, the movie tells the story of two single women in their early thirties. Both ladies hail from middle-class families, are well educated and have jobs, but are nonetheless fixated on getting married.

The movie takes a realistic approach to society’s demeaning perception of single women, often referred to as “spinsters.” There are many scenes in which Zeina, one of the protagonists, enviously watches loving couples–like a teenager longing for even a look from a man.

One of the most controversial scenes of the movie is one in which the fiance of one of the two leading characters asks her to prove her virginity. The scene of a lady spreading her legs in front of a gynecologist to prove that she is a virgin reveals much about Egyptian society. First is the issue of virginity, and its importance for marriage; second, the eagerness of girls to get married to men whose main concern is their virginity.

The other controversial scene involves six single women and their newly married friend, who is asked to give details about what took place on her wedding night. She goes on to compare the feeling of marriage to the pleasures of paradise.

The portrayal of single women as girls who find no other means of self fulfillment except through a husband is another example of stereotyping Egyptian women.

But the movie also tackles the problem of unemployment; how most young Egyptians just sit at home, brainstorming ways of escaping the country and finding work abroad.

In addition to unemployment, the movie discusses the corruption plaguing Egypt’s political regime and the unfairness that poor people face. This is exemplified in the unjust application of the emergency law, which gives police the right to jail anyone–one example of which is a blogger arrested for posting a controversial article.

Despite being considerably longer than expected, the film is marked by above-average acting. Except for the way the lead characters dress–hardly in line with their social class–everything else, from make up to sets, all contribute to the film’s realism.

Nevertheless, the movie has been criticized by audiences to the extent that one Egyptian lawyer has filed a lawsuit, saying the movie promotes immoral behavior within Egyptian society and spreads falsehoods about Egyptian women.

In any event, critics say that the movie’s makers never expected high viewership; but rather international awards for the film’s depth and realistic portrayal of the characters.

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