“The right way to look for your life partner” is the motto used by Harmonica, the first Egyptian matchmaking mobile application, available on both Google Play and Apple Store.
The application, according to its website, aims at avoiding the pitfalls of arranged marriages where people and families who do not know each other are connected through mediators.
“This way is no longer suitable for our needs at the moment nor our lifestyle which has become more open,” says the website. The application, therefore, offers a new “safe and efficient” ways of matchmaking that caters to the needs of younger generations.
After downloading the app and registering, users answer a set of questions that demonstrate the main characteristics they want in a life partner.
Based on their answers, users receive up to three recommendations per day and it is only when both parties express initial interest in each other that the introduction process starts. While the application markets itself as a modern alternative to traditional methods, it remains to be seen whether it offers anything new.
According to Sameh Saleh, one of the founders of the project, the process of choosing a life partner is based on “scientific foundations” since each user has to answer 30 questions prepared by specialists to determine what they want most in their significant others. “The application also guarantees total privacy,” he said.
“A chat between a man a woman only opens when both of them likes the other’s profile. This chat is completely safe and secured.” Saleh added that in addition to matchmaking the application offers a number of other services.
“We have a service called ‘Ask Harmonica’ where users can send messages with their personal problems and a professional team offers them the necessary support. Also, a number of articles on love, marriage, and the choice of life partners are published on the app.” When asked whether the users of the app are mostly male or female, Saleh said the number of females is larger.
Ali Khaled, the co-founder of the application, said that Harmonica was founded by four people all of whom have witnessed the problems resulting of arranged marriages. “We went through personal experiences, did a lot of research, and witnessed many introduction meetings in arranged marriages,” he said. “We saw how these meetings are a source of tension for both parties, especially girls.”
Khaled also argued that the remarkable rise in divorce rates in Egypt is strongly linked to the wrong approach to marriage and this is how the idea of the application came to being. When asked about guarantees of the seriousness of users, Khaled said the founders set a number of conditions to make sure the application is used for its intended purpose.
“We require a minimum numbers of years on Facebook and we verify the identity of each user through a special program,” he explained. “As for seriousness, we have a report option so that in case a user registers only for fun or out of curiosity he or she is reported by other users they are introduced to then their account is blocked.”
Sherine al-Rayes, expert in family and marital relations, argued that most likely users would not answer the questions they are asked in the beginning honestly. “However, the good thing about the application is that it facilitates the first stage of an arranged marriage, considered the most awkward,” she said. “It also makes women feel they are in control since they decide to register in this application and are not pushed by their families to meet suitors.”
Despite this, she added, the second stage remains problematic since people in most cases are not their true selves when they go on dates and this is something an application cannot solve. Rayes added that the application serves as an acknowledgement of the existence of a real problem when it comes to marriage in the Egyptian society.
“This problem is related to the fact that the society has in many ways become more open theoretically, but there are no practical ways of applying this openness to the ground. This particularly reflects on dating, relationships, and marriage. There is also the constant conflict between this openness and making sure social customs are not violated.”
Alternative to matchmaker
Journalist Hanaa Abdel Fattah objected to claims that Harmonica is the modern alternative to the matchmaker, a woman who for decades was used by Egyptian families to marry off their sons and daughters especially in working and middle class neighborhoods.
“The matchmaker was a human being known in the neighborhood and trusted by people who use her services,” she said. “She knew the background of each potential bride and groom because she was personally in touch with them and their families. None of this is the case with a mobile app.”
Abdel Fattah also objected to the word “partner” used in the motto of the application since she found it vague and not necessarily indicative of marriage. “It is possible then that homosexuals would register and look for ‘partners’ or people would just look for a date. How would this be filtered?”
She also argued that it is risky for women in particular to put all their personal data on the application while not being sure how it will be used. For Abdel Fattah, the application does not clarify how the introduction process will take place, which makes things vaguer.
“So, if my profile fits that of another user, how are we expected to meet? Will the application play a role in this? How can I guarantee that the setup of this meeting would suit me?”