The Marriage Negotiation
All Muslim Egyptian marriages are characterized by a formalized set of negotiations that begin once the suitability of the marriage partners has been determined. The prelude to the marriage contract is the betrothal, which is the request by the man for the hand of a certain woman in marriage. It is at this point that the man will approach her family with the view of describing his status and negotiating with them the marriage contract and their respective demands. For the betrothal to be valid, both parties should be aware of the circumstances of the other and should know the potential spouse's character and behavior. This information is obtained through inquiries, investigations, and the direct contact of the couple in the presence of a chaperon. Once the man's offer is accepted by the woman, or by those who are legally entitled to act on her behalf, the betrothal will have taken place. It is usual at the point of betrothal that the man offers his future bride a gift, which in Egypt is referred to as the shabka. In some instances, particularly if the man does not know the bride's family through previous contacts, or if he wants to make an extremely favorable impression on the young woman, the man will offer her the shabka before the khutba, thereby showing his good will, his good intentions, and, perhaps his good financial standing. The shabka is, by middle-class American standards, a very expensive gift of jewelry. Betrothal does not, however, constitute a marriage contract: It is merely a mutual promise of marriage between the two parties, and it is not legally binding for either. In practice, the khutba is easily dissolved.
Among Egyptians, the betrothal becomes a public acknowledgment of the couple's right to spend chaperoned time together. It is a general rule that now the prospective bridegroom will join the woman's family for dinner regularly, giving the couple an opportunity to get to know each other in the presence of others. In addition, other members of the two families will start visiting one another. In particular, the man's mother and sisters or female cousins will begin spending long periods of time with the prospective bride