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The Rise of Divorce (2:53) Excerpt from film "Dishing Democracy", August 2007
Rising divorce rates are a serious concern - not just in the jaded West, but even in the religiously traditional countries of the Middle East.

Country: Egypt

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Guiding Questions
  1. What are the reasons one hears for high divorce rates in America? Why might divorce be on the rise in the Middle East?

  2. What might the commentator mean by the statement that marriage is "a failed social institution"?

  3. The opinions expressed in this particular clip mainly focus on women and their appearance. What other factors may be contributing to an increasing divorce rate? What kinds of economic and social trends might play a role?
Background Essay
The women of Kalam Nawaem, "Sweet Talk," discuss recent findings that divorce is on the rise in the Middle East. Topics they discuss touch on the possibility that men become dissatisfied in their marriages partly due to the provocative images of women they see on TV, and that family responsibilities and comfort levels might make women less keen on keeping up appearances over time in a marriage.

Prior to 1990, television viewers in the Arab world had to rely upon the state for their programming options. There were not many channels available, and what was available was subject to government oversight. Since 1990, however, satellite TV has emerged as a popular alternative to standard broadcast stations. Currently, there are more than 200 satellite channels available, many of which confront formerly taboo topics such as sex education, homosexuality, domestic abuse, and gender inequality. The dramatic growth in independent journalism has led to live reporting, news analysis, political debates, and talk shows.

MBC was the first independent Arabic satellite television station, and it serves more than 130 million people around the world. One of its most popular shows is Kalam Nawaem, an all-female talk show. (Kalam Nawaem translates to English as Soft Talk, or Sweet Talk.) There are four hostesses who come from different backgrounds, and their goal is to discuss both new and frequent issues in the Arab world.

There are two parts to Kalam Nawaem. First, there is the celebrity feature, a portion of the show where there is an appearance by a celebrity guest. An informal conversation with the guest is followed by questions from the audience. Second, and perhaps more importantly, there is the lively discussion of controversial issues. The hostesses - Lebanese Rania Barghoot, Palestinian Farah Bseiso, Egyptian Dr. Fawziah Salamah, and Saudi Muna Abu Suleiman - hope that bringing these issues to light will create a dialogue about finding solutions that all people will accept and support.

In the episode entitled DISHING DEMOCRACY, WIDE ANGLE goes behind the scenes at Kalam Nawaem to discover how these four hostesses are boldly and effectively encouraging social reform within the Arab world.

This week the women discuss recent findings that divorce is on the rise in the Middle East and that more men are dissatisfied in their marriages partly due to the provocative images of women they see on TV.

While the Kalam Nawaem hosts are all working mothers in the vanguard of the Arab world, their personal views on marriage vary.

We are going to have today, two episodes. The first one speaks about the unhappy husbands. Because they are saying that with marriage no love, no romance, and they think that marriage as an institution is collapsing now in the Arab world.

It's a failed social institution, a failed social institution.

I don't agree.

I can't spend all my time fawning over my husband. I have responsibilities, my children.

Fawzia is watching us all!

She is preparing her speech!

I am a champion of the institution of marriage. I believe that this is the natural state for human beings to be. And it has nothing to do with romance. Life is seasons.

Love, respect, children, it's the whole thing. It's a whole package.

Who else in the whole world sees you as you come out of your bed with tousled hair?

You know what, I never let my husband see me. I never let him see me in a very bad way, unless I'm really sick.

I want to keep the mystery between me and my husband.

And now, join us in welcoming the ladies of Kalam Nawaem!

A very good and happy and healthy evening to all our viewers and all the families watching us today.

In Saudi Arabia, the divorce rate has now reached 60 percent. And that's a frightening number. It's not as superficial as a man seeing a sexy video clip and deciding to divorce his wife. No, that's not the point, the point is...

What kind of a marriage is that, and based on what kind of foundation, if you decide to divorce because of a woman on TV?

It's an important point, Farah. Some women don't care about their looks once they're married. That happens, of course. They think, 'I got him.'

Then they have kids...

They gain weight, wear what they want, and they don't care if they smell like onions or garlic. That's not right, of course.

After the episode is finished, the women sit down and discuss the topics we have discussed. We provoke thought, we provoke words being exchanged. You cannot stop change. And Kalam Nawaem is part of this change that is happening to the women.

Related Links
Dishing Democracy on PBS.org

CIA World Factbook: Eqypt

The Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project

Mosaic-Link TV: World News from the Middle East

Women's Rights and Democracy in the Arab World

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