Friday, June 13, 2008

Gender in the Middle East

Gender in the Middle East is a perennial hot topic, and there's a few topics that come up again and again (women in the workplace, family planning, women in Islam, etc.) But one strange policy I've noticed is that groups of young men are not allowed into certain establishments unless they bring an equal number of young women with them. I first encountered this in Lebanon in Monoe (sp?) where groups of foreign men from AUB would ask us (the girls) to go with them to neighborhood bars so they could get in. I noticed it again when I booked a reservation at a jazz club in Cairo - the reservation system said "couples only" - and explained that too much testosterone ruins any party (which I wholeheartedly agree with).

But this policy does belie a more systemic problem: too many unemployed or underemployed young males with too much time on their hands. The higher education system in Egypt (although free to all those who achieve qualifying grades on their secondary school exams) is very poor, and the job market is too small even to accommodate those who graduate with the necessary skills. The result is large roving bands of shabab getting in street fights and otherwise causing trouble. I have noticed an inordinately large number of sports clubs (gyms) - maybe this is an effort to deal with the problem?

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