“I remember especially a university student from Assiut in conservative Upper Egypt who said, ‘Yes!I wish everybody would hear what you are saying; it makes so much sense.’” Clearly, the programme didn’t arrive at a consensus, but it had raised an important aspect of young people’s lives that the team feels is not addressed realistically, even in church.It was because of this that the Egypt-based SAT-7 team who produce decided to dedicate a recent episode to exploring love and dating in the region.Church and parental fears over children mixing or dating has actually led to an unhealthy culture of secrecy and denial, in the view of the programme’s producer, Alexandria-born Maggie Morgan.There are no mixed singles groups and few opportunities for young people to meet openly.In more conservative areas a girl and boy are not even supposed to stand alone together after church.“The show was very clear at the beginning, that we were not talking about premarital sex or anything like that,” Maggie says.“We were looking at the best way to establish healthy relationships between young men and women.” Rosette said her fellowship discouraged any one-to-one dating and does not have mixed groups.
But widespread tokens of love in February bely a deeply conservative attitude to any friendship across the sexes before couples are on the road to marriage.
“Officially,” Maggie says, “in the Middle East, there no dating. But in reality what happens on the ground is that people date anyway behind the backs of the families and institutions – they mix and interact and get married because they know each other.” Flouting the rules, however, prevents older teenagers and young adults from being able to talk about their friendships with parents or church leaders.
Nor can they bring home a girl or boy to meet the family except when there is a firm intention to move towards marriage.
The typical response from younger viewers was different: “’Yeah, I wish I could tell my Mum’.
It was that kind of thing: I assume nobody wants to hide,” Maggie says.
They encourage them not to mix until they are ready to get engaged.