In dusty Turkish village, surfing the Web for brides
Turkey's rising status in the Arab world – along with the arrival of the Internet in this rural town – has helped men attract women from Morocco. Most are second wives.
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When Yildirim, a former truck driver, opened the Internet cafe two years ago, he imagined it would be a place for children to play video games and surf the Web. But aided by Turkey's rising stature, Turkish men have become magnets for Moroccan women.
"The Moroccans think Turkey has prestige, that it's a strong country. They also trust Turkey – they know it's a Muslim country and that we pray and read the Koran," says Yildirim.
Issam Moussaoui, executive director of the Democratic Association of Moroccan Women, a women's rights organization based in Casablanca, says a poor economy and little access to jobs have forced many Moroccan women to look to marriage abroad – particularly in Europe – as a way out.
For some Moroccan women, being a second wife might not sound so strange. Polygamy in Morocco was only banned in 2004.
Meanwhile, after decades of not being involved in the Middle East, Turkey's stock in the region is rising. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel's recent attack on Gaza endeared Turkey to many in the Arab world. In recent years, several Turkish soap operas have become hits across the Middle East.
"Moroccans know a lot more about Turkey now," says Mr. Moussaoui, speaking by telephone from Casablanca. "Especially now with the television shows, people know Turkey a lot more. A lot of women watch these shows daily. They know a lot about Turkish culture and that Turkish men are more romantic than other ones."
A recent survey conducted by Bahcesehir University in Istanbul found that 89 percent of Turks oppose polygamy.
Mazhar Bagli, a sociologist at Dicle University in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir, estimates that 7 to 8 percent of the region's population practices polygamy, compared with 3 to 4 percent in all of Turkey.
"This issue has been highlighted in the media and academic circles, and this interest gives an impression that there is a rise in polygamy practices," Dr. Bagli says. "But I believe that, comparatively, there is not much increase in these practices."
Turkish village 'lucky' to get Moroccan wives
In Gokce, at least, the arrival of the Internet may mean that the practice is not going to decrease. On a recent afternoon, Yildirim was sitting in front of a computer screen, holding simultaneous online chats in Arabic with three Moroccan women whom he was hoping to introduce to some locals. Huddled around him is a group of curious boys, munching away on sunflower seeds.
At a dimly lit grocery next door, store owner Abdulbaki Oncel – younger brother of Halit – still seems bewildered that brides from Morocco have come to tiny Gokce.
"Finding these Moroccan girls has been very lucky for our village," he says, shaking his head slightly. "Morocco is very far from Turkey."