What does it mean to be a “real” man? Unemotional? Brave? Strong? Proud? In control? These stereotypes can be found the world over, but are especially heightened in the MENA, where traditional gender roles are firmly entrenched in family life.
As George Makeen explores in his blog post, Middle Eastern men are expected to be strong, tough, and able to provide for a family. But in a region experiencing conflict, uncertainty, economic strain and high unemployment rates, the pressure can become too much. Without stable employment, many young Middle Eastern men are unable to afford a dowry or a house, so they are forced to delay marriage. In the MENA, marriage is seen as a rite of passage to adulthood – which means if they remain unmarried, young men still live under the control of their parents, further adding to their crisis of identity.
This build-up of pressure has a devastating effect on men’s self-esteem and mental health. In a recent study across the MENA, it was found that up to 38% of men were suffering from depressive symptoms, with conflict and unemployment frequently mentioned as causing factors. Between one-fifth and half of men reported being ashamed to face their families because of lack of work or income.
In particular, Syrian refugee men felt a sense of lost masculine identity as a result of the conflict and displacement.
In the UK, around 1 in 8 men have a common mental health problem, but they may be reluctant to seek help – often because they feel it makes them less of a “man”. The same is true of Middle Eastern men – but in a culture where mental health is a taboo topic, even if they did want support, they would have no easy access to psychological care. SAT-7 is helping to fill this gap, by broadcasting professional, psychological advice, directly into people’s homes.
SAT-7 also seeks to introduce men to the ultimate example of a real Middle Eastern man – Jesus Christ. He showed what real strength and power look like: laying down your life in love for other people. Pray that husbands, fathers and sons across the region will meet with Jesus through SAT-7’s TV programmes, and be given a new heart of openness, humility and love, modelled on Him:
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8) ∎
SAT 16 MARCH
“Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14-15). Thank God for the perfect example of humility that is found in Jesus. Pray that men across the region would learn to follow His loving example.
SUN 17 MARCH
“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me” (Psalm 28:7). Pray that the men of the MENA will realise that they don’t need to do everything in their own strength – because God will help them.
MON 18 MARCH
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Pray for men who are struggling with their mental health. Ask that God will renew their minds, and help them find support.
TUE 19 MARCH
“Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God” (Hebrews 12:28). Pray for refugee men who feel a loss of identity because of displacement from their home or country. Pray they will find their identity in God, whose kingdom cannot be shaken.
Wed 20 March
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Thank God that George was able to admit his weaknesses to his daughter. Pray that more men will have the courage to open up to others.
Thur 21 March
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). Pray that SAT-7 will be able to broadcast more men’s shows which teach men how to live a godly life.
Fri 22 March
“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Pray that God will give Middle Eastern men the humility to start questioning their harmful attitudes towards women.
Men under pressure
George is from Cairo, Egypt and is SAT-7 Arabic Channels Programming Director. Here, he explains the cultural pressures facing Middle Eastern men, and how SAT-7 is showing them their true identity.
A few years ago, in a meeting with Maggie Morgan, the producer of SAT-7 show Needle and New Thread, I commented that women are less fortunate in our region because of all the difficulties they are facing. To my surprise, Maggie replied, “Men too are unfortunate and face huge challenges!”
Maggie didn’t say that out of sympathy with me as a man, but she spoke of the unrealistic expectations our societies put on men. In my culture, men are still expected to be in control, to be the sole providers, to be tough and to never express weakness or cry. All of these unfair “masculine” expectations don’t only fail to recognise and appreciate women’s contribution to society, but also add a huge burden on men.
Marriage and fatherhood put me in the face of this cultural dilemma. One of the moments I felt most strongly connected with my daughter was when I shared with her my shortcomings as a father: that I am not perfect, and need to seek God’s grace to cover me. I saw the understanding in her eyes – that she is also not expected to be perfect, that she is loved just because of who she is. It demonstrated to her that men are not heroes – we are human beings who need love and support, and, by the way, do cry sometimes!
In addition to the unrealistic cultural expectations placed on men, our region is facing financial pressure and a lack of opportunities, which only adds to the strain. The main problem in the MENA today, however, is not poverty, poor education, or political trauma – it’s people losing hope that the situation can change, a heavy feeling of being trapped and seeing no way out. This kind of pressure and hopelessness impacts family relationships, and we are witnessing shocking numbers of divorces and broken homes.
In such times, people need to be reminded of the simple yet profound truth that we are not loved because of what we do or have, but simply because we are His sons and daughters. We try to point to this truth on our SAT-7 programmes. We have an impact when we present programmes not by people who pretend they know it all or are always right, but by people who share their challenges and weaknesses – who admit they too need God’s grace to carry on.
In one of our marriage programmes, From Heart to Heart (read more next week), many viewers who experienced change through the show explained that what touched them most was that the presenters spoke about their life challenges and difficulties too. We try to show that, though life can take us up or down, our true value is found in being loved and cherished by our heavenly Father.
Please join me in praying that the men of the Middle East will put their hope in God, and find their identity in His love that never fails. ∎