Friday, April 18, 2014

Egypt Cool With Divorce? What Do The Findings of The Pew Global Attitudes Survey Really Mean?

The Pew Global Attitudes project has a survey of eight "hot-button" issues, to see how the values associated with them vary in prevalence across countries.  The new site has a quick summary of the findings.  The headline states:

France likes cheating, Egypt is cool with divorce, and other things the world believes about sex and marriage

It's the bit about Egypt being cool with divorce that is worth looking into a bit more, because the overall tone of the piece suggests that it's surprising how OK Egyptians are with divorce. Later the story states:
Divorce is slightly less polarized, with disapproval concentrated in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia (and Bolivia, for whatever reason). Egypt stands out compared to other Muslim countries, especially nearby Tunisia; in Tunisia, about 55 percent of respondents giving an answer disapproved of divorce, compared to only 8 percent of Egyptians giving an answer.

I'm confused about those numbers, by the way, because the chart at the source reads to me as if 46% of Tunisians regard divorce as unacceptable while 7% of Egyptians do, but perhaps the different data comes from more detailed parts of the report.

Never mind, what's important about that link to the chart is the tiny writing on the left about the context:

Even in several socially conservative Middle Eastern nations, relatively few consider divorce unacceptable, including around 10% or fewer in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

And that's why I write about all this, and especially to the comparison with Tunisia.  Tunisia has a divorce law which is almost gender-equal, whereas Egypt does not.  Likewise, divorce in Islam has very particular features and is based on religious interpretations as something allowed to men in much wider circumstances than it is allowed to women.  As far as I can tell, divorce in Jordan, for example, is based on the Islamic sharia law.

The flavor of the interpretation of Egyptians as somehow cool with divorce as a sign of something one wouldn't expect from that country, given its socially conservative culture, is misplaced, because a certain type of divorce IS part of that socially conservative religious tradition.  But it's not a gender-equal type of divorce, and finding it acceptable doesn't measure liberal values.