Friday 2 of December, 2022
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The Tale of Samah Hamdy: The Unwed Bride

We speak to the woman who turned thousands of heads when she dared to take to the streets of Cairo in a wedding dress, without a groom...

Staff Writer

It is story telling time at Cairo Scene. By now you will have seen the images of Samah Hamdy, but now it's time to hear her modern fairy tale. Many a time Samah had encountered newlywed couples on the banks of the Nile, surrounded by onlookers and well-wishers shouting “Mabrouk!” On Samah’s own wedding day, things would be different…

Samah is a young, educated woman who was trying to find her place in the world. Something was different about her growing up and her way of looking at the world differed from all of her friends’. Samah had many dreams while all other girls around her seemed to have just one: get married. However, the perception that a young girl’s only ambition should be to unite with a man in matrimony that oh-so-many Egyptian women live is one that Samah deeply despised. One fine day, she was discussing her university degree with an acquaintance. As she was elaborating on her hopes that said university degree would allow her to find better opportunities in the job market or to be taken more seriously by society, her acquaintance pointed out that the only way a university degree benefits a woman is to attract a better man. At the same time, the acquaintance tried to introduce Samah to a man she thought would make a suitable husband for her. Despite the fact that both did not know each other very well, the acquaintance gave her two cents on what Samah should do to end up with the best possible husband. As the entire world seemed to be calling for nothing else but Samah’s wedding, Samah decided to get married that day. She put on a wedding dress and celebrated in the street. Her groom, however, did not exist. Samah was simply making a statement.

Seeing a bride and a groom in the street is a joyous occasion. But what if the groom is missing? Thanks to Samah, we now know the answer. Dressed in a beautiful white wedding dress, Samah started walking Cairo that day. Her actions were a protest against a society expecting her to get married, regardless of her personal fulfilment, her own ambitions and the desire she has to express them. “Nobody should be told who they are”, Samah told us when we were discussing what a woman’s role in Egypt’s society should be. Indeed, it is expected of women to be married and raise a family of their own by many parts of society. The 27-year old masters student recalled the day of her university graduation where women would be crying because they finished university without a ring on their finger. To Samah, ambitions exceed the desire for a suitable husband and procreation.

“Since everybody expected me to get married anyways, I decided to put the dress on”, Samah said of the day she exposed her wedding dress to the unprepared public. Most places she showed up she was met with an extraordinary amount of scepticism with especially male onlookers stopping whatever it was they were doing to observe the odd lady in the wedding dress. Harassment, catcalling and an involuntary photo shoot or two by men with smartphones was the result of Samah’s journey in the city. Without a man, her performance as a bride was no longer a joyous occasion but one to be made fun of.        

In the women’s car of the Metro, ladies started congratulating and celebrating the bride, thinking she had been too poor to afford a proper wedding. Some gave her a zaghroota, clearly underlining how much of a happy moment a wedding is for Egyptians, even if the groom is unknown or, in this case non-existent as far as the train was concerned. Others looked at her in dismay as if they wanted to tell her to reconsider her actions on the most important day in her life. All of them, however, agreed that the girl in the wedding dress has fulfilled her female duties. Samah thought otherwise.

Samah told us how disappointed she is about the Egyptian society calling for women to find no other output for their expression than in the culmination of their wedding. Her appearance in a wedding dress sans husband was a protest against the narrow-minded ambitions of young Egyptian women and society’s grip on their own dreams. Samah’s dreams do not include white dresses exclusively. In Samah’s perfect world, society would stop defining female success in terms of how much of a catch her husband is. Individual achievement is what she hopes for her life first, and a husband is not needed in that scenario. A woman can do much more than be someone’s wife, Samah thinks, and so the sun goes down on our story about Samah who ventured out to open eyes on female ambitions, their power to defy societal rules and the future they can have if they continue dreaming…