In a world where "gawaz salonat is too outdated and Tinder is too out there," Egypt's first dating app, Harmonica tries to hold the middle ground.
In Egypt, marriage is ultimately the end goal for most of the country's youth. For the average Egyptian, divorce becomes the lesser of two evils when weighed against living life as a spinster. At least, with a divorce, you've gotten married once. A woman's value - and to a certain extent that of a man - is defined by her/his ability to get married or lack thereof. On the other hand, it's still considered somewhat a taboo to date in the modern sense of the word (except within a few circles which make up a minority of Egypt's demographic) and having too many "boyfriends" may lessen chances of marriage for a woman. So in the Rubik's cube that is Egypt's romance scene, where does that leave those who want to stick to traditional forms of courting and marriage but still want to explore? Enter Harmonica, the first Egyptian app that creates a modern dating field that is still on par with the cultural norms of society.
Launched in November of 2017, Harmonica was founded by Sameh Saleh, Tamer Mohammed, Shaymaa Aly and Aly Khaled. Saleh - who is the main founder - came up with the idea after witnessing one of his relatives suffer from the pressures of finding a partner, having gone through a series of suitors and still no husband. Moreover, as she closed in on her 30s, she was fast reaching her "expiration" date by Egyptian marital standards.
“My relative is in her 30s and is somewhat conservative. Contemporary methods of dating don’t really appeal to her. However the Gawaz Salonat method - which she’s been trying for the past 10 years, to no avail - is not optimum either because she ends up feeling pressured and unsatisfied,” says Saleh of the inspiration behind the app. “Add to that the pressure of getting older and the fact that the whole family waits by the door as you talk to your potential suitors and it’s just nerve wrecking.”
Add to that the pressure of getting older and the fact that the whole family waits by the door as you talk to your potential suitors and it’s just nerve wrecking.
Bred out of a desire to help his relative in Egypt's marital minefield, Saleh recognized the issue to be a social problem that wasn't limited to his family but that encompassed a majority of Egyptian youth. The co-founder markets Harmonica as the platform for quality relationships. While most dating apps see the users through only up until the match takes place, Harmonica sees the relationship through to the very end. Kind of like an Egyptian mother in law, if you will.
"We have a team of psychologists that are on call to aid our users with anything they may need throughout the experience. They offer tips and advice on the relationships. They walk the user through what to do or counsel them on how to deal with a problem in the relationship,” explains Saleh.
Taking almost two years to put together, Harmonica saw Saleh and a team of researchers and psychologists - that he put together - do a test run by bringing 500 Egyptian men and 500 Egyptian women, giving them a set of questions and matching them based on their own algorithms of compatibility. The algorithms were then applied to the dating app.
“Three of the couples from the sample actually ended up getting engaged. I think relationships are a science. If studied properly, the outcome can be controlled to a certain extent when its based on compatibility. And our team of psychologists studied everything from what causes divorce to how to prevent it and what constitutes a healthy relationship."
Striving to build the optimum programme tailored specifically for an Egyptian demographic, Saleh left a bright future in Reservoir Engineering and consecrated his time to studying the science of relationships thoroughly. Harmonica, which veers away from the promiscuous nature of most dating apps, only allows for one match at a time per person and a maximum of three matches per day.
“So if you’ve matched someone and you’re talking to them, then you can’t be talking to anyone else. If, however, you don't like your match, we get you another one and remove the first one from your contact, and so on, until you reach your third match and then you're done for the day,” explains Saleh of the program's matching algorithm.
So if you’ve matched someone and you’re talking to them, then you can’t be talking to anyone else. If however, you don't like your match, we get you another one and remove the first one from your contact. And so on, until you reach your third match and then you're done for the day
Harmonica, which is only 4 months old, has already amassed around 50,000 users which go through a series of questions pertaining to their views on love and marriage, among other things; that'll help researchers in testing for compatibility.
“We ask those signing up how they feel about marriage, if it's about falling in love or more about finding someone with the same background, for example. The set of questions helps us find a match for them and we continue assessing their relationship even once the match is done," explains Saleh of Harmonica's matching process. "We don’t monitor any chats though. They’re fully encrypted. But we are working on an AI program that studies how much two people talk to each other and their linguistics and it analyzes the result. From our end, we send questionnaires to see whether or not it’s working out and the results are then transferred to our team of psychologists to study and work on with our engineers to tweak the app accordingly,” says Saleh.
Every algorithm and procedure is studied carefully and revamped based on feedback from the program's users. That being said, while Harmonica administers a more conservative form of online dating, the app doesn’t market itself as a 'Muslim dating app'. Rather, Harmonica sets out to be an environment that welcomes all thoughts and mentalities granted they are looking for a monogamous relationship; more specifically, ones that adhere to old school Egyptian dating etiquette.
“Our questionnaire for registering is tailored in a very broad manner. It's not strictly for Muslims or the pious. We ask users if they drink, and if so, whether it’s moderate or excessive, so that we can match them based on compatibility, “ explains Saleh of the questionnaire.
We want Harmonica to be the natural evolution from Gawazat el Salonat when it comes to finding a suitable partner.
Compatibility is only one of the app's many perks. Safety, as well as credibility, is also taken seriously with the Harmonica crew, with users required to have a valid Facebook account.
"Users who don't follow the app's guidelines are kicked off the app. A ban is put on their Facebook account and since we have a minimum two year requirement for a Facebook page to be valid, it would be hard for someone to create a fake Facebook page and re-enter the app under the different name," says a proud Saleh.
Saleh, who is fully invested in the app, faced a lot of challenges in starting it. Having left behind a high-earning job, his parents, among others, weren't exactly thrilled with the decision, initially. However, the app, which has been used almost 2 million times since its launch, is a cause he believes will improve the country socially.
"We want our users to get to the point where they can be telling their parents that they're on Harmonica, and they're dating but under the appropriate setting. We want Harmonica to be the natural evolution from Gawazat el Salonat when it comes to finding a suitable partner," says Saleh of the app's future. " With Harmonica, you get a much larger pool of options as opposed to being limited to referrals from friends and family. And with this app, there's no pressure from family and friends."
Gawaz salonat is too outdated and Tinder is too out there. We want to be the middle ground.
With a recent increase in divorce over the past few years, Harmonica encourages its users to take their time when picking a partner. The app even provides short blog-like entries which help subscribers navigate their love life by offering tips on how to know if you're with the right partner and how to regain your positive outlook on love and life.
“I really want people to start getting married for the right reasons. In our society, people often marry for the wrong reason and end up getting divorced. By basing our matches mainly on compatibility and still remaining within the frame of dating within Egyptian cultural norms, we hope to educate people through the app. Gawaz salonat is too outdated and Tinder is too out there," Saleh concludes. "We want to be the middle ground."