Khatba Sousou (Right) - Egypt Today
CAIRO - 11 February 2018: Some of the most memorable scenes of old black-and-white movies depict a middle-aged lady trying to mix and match brides and grooms, a professional matchmaker who comes in with her pile of photos to show to the young men and women, with a full resume that she has impressively memorized for each and every match she proposes.
We might have thought that the khatba profession (professional matchmaker) has ceased to exist over the years as communities became more open and technologies have widened the pool of accessible matches. However, Soheir Mansour—known as khatba Sousou—affirms that people are once again resorting to the khatba for the perfect match, primarily seeking “sincerity” and “credibility.”
A former public relations manager at Egypt Telecom, Mansour, 49, started romantically matching her colleagues, friends and neighbors as a “talent” over 20 years ago. She then opened her own khatba office, where she used to receive her clients up until last summer. She has now switched to a digital operation; depending mostly on Facebook and Whatsapp, as she had to “evolve with the mentality of young people, and maintain sincerity and credibility,” Mansour tells Egypt Today .
We met Mansour at her home in Helmyet El-Zaytoun in Cairo for a long chat, where she told us how she has developed the khatba profession to fit the modern age; and gave us precious insight into what her hundreds of clients are looking for in a partner these days.
People have revived the khatba profession “because there is no trust,” Mansour says.
“Most of the girls I have met had been previously misguided with wrong information, or they were engaged for a year or two, or even met someone who wanted to talk online and that is it,” she explains, adding that she resolves those problems by asking them—mostly men—to pay a first installment upfront to make sure they are serious and by asking for their ID.
To contact Khatba Sousou, you first send her a message on her Facebook page; she talks to you and confirms “you are who you say you are.” She then gives you her Whatsapp number, to which you have to send your photo, a copy of your ID and proof of your claimed job. “Some refuse to send their info, which is a sign for me to doubt them,” Mansour says. Once you send the documents, you meet her in a public place or at her home; and she starts working her magic. “I meet two or three a day. … In the evening, I put the information together and I start offering and giving my comments.”
Although she refused to give us an exact digit for the cost of matchmaking, Mansour says it is a “symbolic” number, adding that the first installment is to “test the sincerity … and that they are not playing around.” Mansour follows up with the parents until the engagement is done, and only then collects the rest of the cost.
“They [clients] find sincerity in the information and the treatment. … I confirm all the information myself,” Mansour says, stressing that she does not take any steps until she meets the person face to face. “There is a new application that I discovered a 60 year-old bride had used and it made her look 40. … I realized it when I saw her face to face and I was shocked,” she says with a laugh.
Khatba Sousou believes she has come up with the perfect combination; “public relations, a good attitude, applying theories to reality and confirming information,” not to mention her “charisma.”
“One time, I was taking the metro. I met a girl coming from college, I approached her with my charisma, took her address and went to her dad and I married her off to a general in the Armed Forces. Now she has a boy and a girl,” Mansour says. “I never just give a groom’s number to a girl. ... What if he caused her problems?”
Although she had previously stated that she matched more than 300 people for marriage over the years, Khatba Sousou once again would not give us an exact number, as she is afraid of “people’s envy.” Prospective brides and grooms come from all social classes, and ages between 19 and 70 years old. She also gets concerned parents who “are afraid that their girls might be getting old,” Mansour says. “I have just received a Facebook message from a man in his 50s looking for a bride.”
Khatba Sousou has also crossed state boundaries, as she is approached by Egyptian brides and grooms living abroad to find them the perfect match, or foreigners seeking to marry Egyptians.
“An Egyptian groom and bride both reached me on Facebook. They were both living abroad in the same country and seeking a match. I got to know them through Facebook, met their relatives here and they got engaged abroad and came to visit me later,” Mansour recounts.
A changing industry
In the field for over 20 years, Khatba Sousou says that both men and women have changed their recipes for the perfect partner over the years. The mentality of both ladies and men has changed, becoming “more materialistic,” Mansour says. She explains that “40 percent of young men want to marry older women or divorcees,” asking for brides 15 or 20 years older than they are. “They tell me ‘young girls want an apartment and dowry, while divorcees or older women will not ask for that and it is better than doing something haram [against religious teachings].”
Girls have also changed, now looking for money and public image rather than religion or good behavior, Khatba Sousou says sadly. However, as she sees her role more as that of a friend and not simply a matchmaker, she also guides the girls to “what suits them and what doesn’t.”
“You start guiding the girl to the core and not just the image,” Mansour says, adding that “Syrian girls are now taking away Egyptian grooms because they have fewer requests.”
Speaking of materialism and how the financial situation has highly affected people’s thoughts and behaviors, Mansour says she was recently approached by a woman looking for a bride for her own husband and father of her children. “This is the weirdest situation I have seen in the past 20 years. … She is beautiful and in a high position,” Mansour says. “She told me ‘everything is so expensive. If he marries a rich woman, it will help us out.’ Marriage has become a business.”
Some old traditions and beliefs have died out with the technological revolution, but Khatba Sousou here is one living example that the ‘black and white’ professional matchmaker is one of those few trends that survived and made it to the 21st century.
“I am asking girls and boys to have mercy in their requests, to have good social relations and not to be dictators in their choices.”