The Fifth Husband

Since 1952 Egypt has had five presidents, or for a better analogy, husbands. The first, Muhammad Naguib, was  kindly and avuncular and disappeared quickly when the more dashing Nasser made his final move. Nasser maybe the one she loves most, a heart-stirring rake whose adventures were exciting but ultimately left the cupboard bare and the children ill-clothed. Sadat was the theatrical follow-up who turned angry when his earnest desire to feed the family only won him degrading comparisons with his irresponsible predecessor. In any case, one day he never came home after getting killed in a street fight with a bunch of thugs he once thought were friends. With the third husband dead, Egypt was growing tired and homely and settled for a stable man, an unimaginative clod whose dullness and sneering indifference were punctuated with bouts of domestic abuse. If he grew rich, those riches did not result in a better life for the family. He mixed a domineering attitude with patriarchal arrogance and self-pity. Eventually the beaten children gave him the boot.

And now she has a fifth husband. A provincial man of small stature who flatters her current homeliness and promises of stable prosperity. But he comes from a family with a history of violence. Her children from the earlier marriages are deeply suspicious of him. To the more worldly ones he is an embarrassment, to the more martial ones he is a threat.

She is trying hard to put the best spin on him. She endows him with imaginary gifts spun of her insecurities rather than of his talents. Yet you suspect,or hope,  that she looks in the mirror and thinks “I do not have to settle for this. I am not what I seem now. Perhaps I can do better.”

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