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The Egyptian authorities have banned a 92-year-old man from the Persian Gulf from marrying a 17-year-old Egyptian girl under a new law, designed to battle the phenomenon of rich Arab men marrying young girls from developing areas of Egypt.

The law, initiated by the Egyptian Justice Ministry, stipulates a maximum 25 year age difference between partners in order for marriage to be permitted by law.

According to data published in the Egyptian daily Al Akhbar, 173 couples with an age difference of more than 25 years married in Egypt last year.

Experts say that the "sex tourism" phenomenon has become more and more commonplace as a result of the growing oil wealth prevalent in the Persian Gulf, in contrast with the growing poverty in certain areas of Egypt and Syria.

"Many rich men are arriving and simply buying the girls from poor families," a sociology professor at a Lebanese university described the situation. "There is a belief among Arabs that old men marrying young girls can thus regain their youth," she said.

The prices in Egypt for a bride are currently somewhere between $500 and $1,500, the newspaper reported. In most cases, the girl becomes a servant in her husband's house after the wedding. The girl has the option of filing for divorce several months after the union, but in those cases her family is forced to pay an unrealistic sum as high as $10,000 to compensate the older man. Most poor Egyptian families could earn that kind of sum in 10 years or more.