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Cairo, Egypt – When one graduate of Egypt’s prestigious American University of Cairo (AUC) recently became engaged, she told her parents in southern Egypt that she met her fiancée through mutual friends.
The truth: they met after both swiping right on a dating app.
“For parents and stuff, I can never say Tinder,” said the twenty-five-year-old, who lives with female friends in an upscale neighborhood in the capital, Cairo.
Despite that stigma, in recent years Tinder and online dating websites like Ok Cupid have become increasingly popular among upper- and middle-class Egyptians looking to find anything from hookups and sex to dates to new acquaintances in Cairo, Egypt’s chaotic capital of over 20 million people.
For the far fewer Egyptian women than men on these sites, however, secrecy is also part of the game: Most women interviewed requested anonymity because they feared for their reputations if family, friends, or colleagues knew they dated or met partners online.
And while in Egypt Tinder profiles advertising shirtless men with cars, police and military officers, and older men with rings on their fingers are standard, cases of swipes to the right turning to marriage remain rare.
“I get very angry because you’d swipe through and you’d see all these shirtless guys with their guns and cars,” said a 27-year-old Egyptian lawyer.
“It’s everything I hate about [Egyptian] society condensed in an app.” She asked Vocativ not to use her name because she “manage[s] a lot of young boys at work.” Still, after first trying out Tinder in Canada, she’s continued to use it in Cairo on-again off-again to expand her dating circle, with some successful romances along the way. “But in Egypt it’s used for many things.” Traditionally in Egypt sexual relations outside of marriage are taboo — in fact, any dating that happens is generally short and geared towards getting engaged.
Sexual health education, meanwhile, is practically non-existent, and nearly all Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment.In 2014 Egypt’s top Islamic authority issued a religious ruling prohibiting the use of online dating.Grindr, a dating app for gay men, has warned users in Egypt that police may be posing as users to entrap them and arrest them using laws against debauchery, prostitution, and pornography.“I am not pro this [dating apps and websites] if it’s not about serious commitment to marriage,” the well-known Egyptian sexologist and TV show host Heba Kotb, who is popular for her conservative, though sometimes controversial, opinions on sex and religion, told Vocativ.Kotb, who is also a Professor of Psychology at American University of Cairo, is rare in Egypt for her TV show that openly answers viewers questions on sex, including her views that homosexuality and masturbation are wrong.But social mores aside, Egyptian youth are skilled at usurping the system.About half of the population is under 25 and more than a third is connected online.Many young Egyptians now have secret boy and girl friends through Facebook and Whatsapp.There remains a thriving underground queer community in Cairo, despite the dangers.Open up Tinder or Ok Cupid in Cairo, and you’ll still only find a specific subset of the population: upper- and middle-class Egyptians who are not super religious and usually with varying knowledge of English.All Egyptian women interviewed using these sites had either lived or traveled abroad and in Cairo met up with both Egyptian and foreign (often Western) men.