American Girls

Crossing between American and Egyptian cultures, he Said girls made one deadly misstep: They fell in love

"The most important [issue]," says Al-Huwaidar, "a woman shouldn't have any kind of affair before marriage or to decide to have her own choice, to go and look for a man, even if she never be with them, where a woman tells her family she loves someone, maybe talking to someone on the phone. If she runs away with the man, they will kill her for sure. They might forgive her if she just talks on the phone, but they will leave a mark on her body, burn or scar her."

Places with high rates of honor killing include Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and eastern Turkey. "It's not only in the Middle East," Al-Huwaidar says. "It's wherever they don't have laws to protect women."

In southern Egypt, "with people living near the Nile, they still practice older traditions, including honor killings," Al-Huwaidar says. "On the wedding night, they still have this tradition to show the blood. The husband has to bring the sheet to show the blood that she's still a virgin."

Islam, the oldest, had to watch over his sisters at all times.
Islam, the oldest, had to watch over his sisters at all times.

The Arabic tradition of money and gifts for the new wife emphasizes the idea of women as property, Al-Huwaidar says. "She cannot take any decision unless she takes permission from the husband. She cannot work or study or leave the house."

Al-Huwaidar attended university in the United States. Now divorced, she returned to Saudi Arabia with her two sons to write about women's issues. (Her work has been translated by MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute.) After her detention by Saudi police for advocating the right of women to drive five years ago, she has been banned from publishing in that country or appearing on TV.

"When you see a woman who becomes a teacher or journalist, it's because the husbands or male guardians give her the chance to be," Al-Huwaidar says. "If the husband or brother decides he doesn't want her too, she cannot do it. It all depends on how open-minded the male guardian is."

Most Middle Easterners adapt to the customs in their adopted countries, keeping some traditions but rejecting extremes that are against the law, such as polygamy. But there have been cases of European Arabs bringing wayward daughters back to the old country to be murdered, Al-Huwaidar says.

An estimated 5,000-10,000 Egyptians live in the Dallas area. "They tend to migrate more than other Arabs," says Anne-Marie Weiss, executive director of the DFW International Community Alliance. She has lived in Syria and Saudi Arabia; her daughter lives in Cairo.

But Yaser had veered from Muslim and Egyptian cultural practices early on, first by marrying Tissie after his brother dumped her.

"That is not acceptable," Weiss says. "She's damaged goods. And no God-fearing Muslim would readily accept a wedding in a Christian church. He is setting aside all his religion and cultural upbringing. If he'll do that, he'll do anything."

Allowing Islam to call his mother by her first name, allowing his wife and unmarried daughters to work, those are "shameful acts," Weiss says. "In the Koran, the male must support his family. Something was seriously wrong in this family."

Amina and Sarah grew up as American Muslims, but Yaser was trying to raise them as Egyptians.

"The girls got up in the morning and probably didn't know what the rules would be," Weiss says. "They were living in a system that is chaotic. They don't know where they stand with [their father]."

Though not wealthy, Yaser had "pure gold" in his children's American citizenship, Weiss says.

"The wedding is the biggest day of the girl's life," Weiss says, and her father's chance to shine. "This is his life's work. He's shown he's made it in America. He's going to be a big man for a week or two."

But with three children to marry in as many years, Yaser and Tissie were under enormous economic pressure. An Egyptian marriage is a process that takes time and requires the exchange of valuables.

In Egypt, Weiss says, "they think Americans live like in the movies. It's common for Arabic fathers to ask [American] immigrants to give them a car. If he doesn't get the money, he's a laughingstock and so is the family, in the worst way. It's very important that you have done your duty to your children."

————

A week before Christmas 2007, Yaser Said dropped his taxi off at the King Cab body shop in Deep Ellum, leaving without paying back fees of $700 or $800. Nasseri didn't worry. Yaser, who had leased taxis from him for about seven years, usually traveled to Egypt over the slow holiday period. He made up the deficit when he returned.

Every Saturday for years, Yaser came down to King Cab to pay his fees, often bringing his children. Office manager Donna Sellers says he became one of her favorite cabbies. She says Yaser was "respectful, kind and thoughtful," even chastising other foreign drivers who were disrespectful to her or didn't accept her authority. "He would explain that this was the way it works here, and they needed to deal with it or go somewhere else."

Problems started when Yaser started bringing Tissie in on Saturdays as well. "She didn't like me talking to Yaser so much," Sellers says.

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