Needed: inheritance law for Christians

07-02-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold


I have repeatedly broached the issue of the inheritance of Christian women and the double injustice inflicted upon them in this regard. First, through the Islamic sharia inheritance law which applies to all Egyptians no matter their religion, and which grants a woman half the share of a man. Second, when men deliberately usurp the inheritance of the female heirs in their family, especially when the estate is agricultural land. Time and again I called for an inheritance law for Christians based on the Christian doctrine to save the women the first injustice. As to the second injustice, it is particularly difficult to deal with since the men who usurp the women’s shares intimidate them so fiercely so as to ensure they do not seek their legal rights. In case a woman insists on seeking these rights in court she does that at her own and her children’s peril; if the court rules in her favour, the men usurping her right flatly defy the court ruling with explicit threats to the woman should she insist on having it implemented. In such cases, the only way for a woman to get her inheritance is if the men in her family have the sufficient moral integrity to let her have it.
It surprised me to note that the draft Family Law for Christians overlooks the inheritance issue. Since the Constitution clearly stipulates that Christians are entitled to resolve their family issues according to their own doctrines, I wondered why an initiative was not taken on inheritance. It would have given the community a push towards progressiveness, and would have acted as a role model to root gender equality instead of granting it mere lip service.

A book recently brought to my attention tackled just that topic. Fathy Ragheb Hanna, lawyer with the Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation, presented me with a copy of his book Ahkaam wa Qawaid al-Mawareeth wal-Wassiya Wifqan li-Ahkaam al-Sharia al-Masseehiya—wa Ahkaam al-Sharia al-Islamiya (Rules and Fundamentals of Inheritance and Wills According to the Provisions of Christian Doctrines—and the Provisions of Islamic Jurisdiction). Since the book details the historical and legal backing of all that pertains to the issue of inheritance, it provided me with the material I needed to back my argument on the inheritance. Hence my resolution to re-tackle that issue which has been too long placed on hold. I hope the upcoming parliament would possess the moral courage to defy the centuries-old male right to inherit double that of a female, and pass legislation to stipulate equal inheritance not only for Christian men and women but also for all Egyptians in general.

A reading in Mr Hanna’s invaluable book sheds light on the equality between men and women regarding inheritance:
• In his introduction, the author cites that Egyptian Christians applied Christian rules and conditions to inheritance ever since Christianity came to Egypt at the hands of St Mark the Apostle in the first century. These rules remained in action for Christians over long centuries and were confirmed by an Ottoman decree in 1884 modified by a law in 1927 on the bylaws of the Coptic Orthodox general council. In 1902, a decree was issued concerning Evangelist nationals, and in 1905 a law for Armenian Catholics. All these laws and rules stipulated that Egyptian Christians were entitled to resort to their Christian doctrines in matters of inheritance. In 1944 a law was issued which restricted the right of Egyptian Christians to apply Christian inheritance rules to the provision that the parties involved should mutually agree to that. This law remained in effect even after the sharia courts that handled family matters were abolished in 1955 and the general courts handled these matters from then on.

• Egypt should be no less than Syria which issued in 2011 a law stipulating the application of the rules of Christian inheritance and wills in case of Greek and Syrian Orthodox individuals.
• The first article of law 25 of 1944 stipulates that provisions of Islamic sharia constitute the State law of inheritance and wills. If the deceased is non-Muslim the inheritors may, as stipulated by Islamic sharia, agree to resort to the doctrines of the religion of the deceased.
Having cited the introduction to the topic, I will next week review the rules and conditions of inheritance and wills that pertain to the Coptic Orthodox as well as to the Greek and Syrian Orthodox sects.

Watani International


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