“When security disappears in married life, and serenity is not accessible, then it is time to do the thing most despised by Allah.” With these words, Mahasen Saber opens her blog, I want a divorce , and then later her online radio station, Divorce Radio.
Saber was married for three years and spent a great part of them in the courts in an attempt to get her divorce. She refused the advice of some of her friends to get a Khul’ (a divorce initiated by the wife, whereby she renounces her right to her financial entitlements), because “The word khul’ provokes me because it impinges on the rights of the woman and provides her with all the damage.” In her interview with IslamOnline, she discussed the aim of her blog:
My blog mainly aims correcting the image of divorced women in society as well as the image of women seeking divorce, who are not asking for anything except their legitimate right. It also aims to display the ambition, dreams and problems of divorced women in our eastern societies, that she is not an absolute disgrace in the community. Plus I want to point out that Islam gave to the divorced women their position and were always treated with respect, but society changed both this position and the look of respect.
In her own words to Al Arabiya television, translated to English by Haaretz, Saber describes how her workplace dealt with her after being divorced: “They told me that from now on, as I was divorced, my situation was sensitive, and it would be better if I did not move around where there were men in the office.”
After the launch of her blog, she wanted to reach much a larger audience by launching an online radio station. Egyptian TV show Al Ashera Masa’an (10 o’clock) covered the topic (Arabic):
Magda Abu Fadil commented on the idea for the Huffington Post:
Egyptian divorcées are no longer alone decrying their fate in a dark corner, fearful of being stigmatized by their conservative society. Now they can commiserate, seek advice, and feel empowered, thanks to an online radio station just for them.
People reacted to her work differently. Saber told CNN that “People are shocked at first, but after they read and listen to what we write and present, they like what we talk about…they are happy because I am talking about something they are dealing with.”
This is not the first time the issue of divorce and Egyptian women asking for divorce grabs the media attention. In 1975, the Egyptian star Faten Hamama played the lead role in Uridu Halan (I Want a Solution), based on a famous novel written by Hosn Shah, an Egyptian writer, journalist, and women’s rights activist who has her own column at Alakhbar newspaper, titled “I need a solution”. The movie was about a woman who wanted a divorce, which was almost impossible back then because of how complicated it was to go through the legal steps for getting a divorce.
After the struggle of Egyptian women in the late 1970’s, reforms to the family court allow a woman can ask for a divorce now. The legal dilemma is not a piece of cake, but it’s sure better than it was before.
Currently, nearly 40 percent of marriages in Egypt now end in divorce, making it the highest rate in the Arab world. In 2008 the number of Egyptian couples who divorced increased 8.4 percent from the previous year, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Egypt is also one of the few countries in the region where the topic is discussed so freely, thanks largely to the initiative of outspoken women
Someone might ask why there is all this fuss now, after all these changes occurred to the Egyptian laws. I asked Saber this exact question:
“I used to think this way too, but knowing is something and passing through the experience is another thing. Yes, there are a lot of changes that have happened to the laws as rules, but it is how they are applied that needs our attention and effort now.”
Saber gives an example:
“If a woman is demanding the expenses of her children for her husband (alimony), the law says it’s her right, but to actually get that verdict, she has to go through an enormous hassle that takes very long time, through which no law is stating who will support her children, which makes the problem stay the same.”
She gives another example:
“There’s a time frame through which judges circulate, a new judge will naturally order the case to be postponed to get some time to look into it, after which he might order another postponement, and so on.”
In this blog post, Saber states the different items in the Egyptian law that she has faced that, she believes need some improvement, and even suggests improvements.
Saber is now planning the official opening of the radio station. She is also planning to organize a peaceful silent protest for those affected by the Personal Status Law on a regular basis every month in front of the National Council for Women. And in case no one responds, she will increase protest frequency on a weekly basis until the implementation of women’s demands to amend the law takes an affect.
It is worth mentioning that Mahasen Saber is not working alone on this radio station. There is a whole team working on it, a team that includes men. This speaks to the fact that, even though things are tough when it comes to dealing with divorced women, even though some families consider divorce an undebatable topic, and even though it is not so easy to go through the legal journey to get a divorce, a group of Egyptian men and women now are working on changing this in the hopes that the next generation will have a less difficult time than these pioneering women did.