Can our family law offend Muslims?

03-04-2016 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom







Problems on Hold






Nothing can be more woeful than the persistence of someone who holds a right to lose this right to self-defeat; be that out of fear, caution, or even owing to passivity or inability. As I ponder what I see as the calamitous omission of inheritance regulations from the new draft family bylaws for Christians, I am appalled at the inadequate justifications volunteered by some for that, justifications governed by obsessions and fears not at all in line with the historic junction we stand at.

We are before a Constitution which, for the first time in Egypt’s modern history, grants Christians the right to use their doctrines to govern their family and personal issues. We are also before a long endeavour to root equality between men and women where inheritance is concerned. Egypt’s contemporary history even boasted laws that acknowledged the right of Christians to resort to their own inheritance regulations and, when Islamic sharia was stipulated as the source for inheritance regulations for all Egyptians (Law 25 for 1944), left the door ajar for Christians to resort to their own doctrines provided the inheritors agree to do so.

Ever since Egyptians succeeded in 2013 in ridding themselves of the Islamist regime that came in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring, we have been living in a state of national cohesion.  Two years in the clutches of political Islam and Muslim Brotherhood rule, which attempted to rob Egyptians of their age-old time-honoured values and instil Islamic culture instead, were sufficient to bring to Egyptians the full realisation that they should band together to defending their Egyptianness. This meant the establishment of a democratic State that respects all its children and grants them equal rights. But effective equality cannot be achieved through forcing a minority to follow the rules of the majority; rather, the majority ought to respect the minority’s right to follow its own doctrines as long as they violate neither law and order, nor stability and social peace. On the national and legislative fronts, then, the climate is now mellow for Christians in Egypt to set their own rules regarding inheritance.

It thus came as a surprise to me that the new family bylaws for Christians should include no provisions for inheritance rules in which men and women would inherit equal shares, instead of the Islamic-stipulated currently applied rules that give a man twice the share of a woman. The stipulation of equal shares for men and women would have set a model for the entire nation at this crucial phase in our history when we are working to entrench gender equality and empower women to be active partners in Egypt’s renaissance.

As strange as it was that the new draft family bylaws for Christians included no provisions for inheritance rules, the justifications given for this omission were even stranger. It was suggested that the issue of inheritance is no family concern, or that no specific inheritance regulations were cited in the Holy Bible. I cited these justifications last week and refuted them in detail

[]. I imagined that I had thus closed this file, even though I continued to feel a sad bitterness at the fact that Christian men appeared to have no will to change the current sharia-based legislation which granted them double a woman’s share. 

Surprises never cease, however. I was amazed at some new justification for the omission of inheritance provisions in the new draft bylaws: that we should be careful not to include articles that would offend our fellow Muslims lest they impede passing the bylaws in the House of Representatives. This left me flabbergasted. Offend our fellow Muslims? Impede the passing of the bylaws? Would the House of Representatives force Christians to follow Islamic sharia when it comes to inheritance, or else it would reject their family bylaws? What is this? Are we through fear, caution, passivity and incompetence relinquishing our right before even demanding it? Are we losing the battle—if there is any battle in the first place—to self-defeat?

More important, how can such an attitude conform to our Constitution-stipulated right? And why are we assuming that resorting to Christian doctrines in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and suchlike would irritate or offend our fellow Muslims? Did we attempt to present our draft bylaws to parliament, or to our fellow Egyptians through institutional or public channels, and found that our bylaws offended or angered them? Are we assuming that Muslim MPs will vote against the bylaws if they include items that contradict sharia? If this were the case, we should know that the bylaws will definitely be rejected, whether or not they include inheritance regulations. Yet the facts on the ground are different from this self-defeating scenario; the bylaws are in line with Article 3 of the Constitution. They will be presented to parliament through the government legislative programme, and will get their fair share of debate, queries and responses. They will then be put up for the vote, with very good chances, because they hold absolutely no cause for conflict between Muslims and Christians. Even assuming the worst-case scenario, that parliament masses up against one of the bylaws clauses, the viability of this clause can be voted upon separately. This should not affect or impede the bylaws.

Did not I say that it saddens me most that we are masters in self-defeat, even before we set off for battle to gain our rights?


Watani International

3 April 2016



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