Problems on hold
The new draft family law for Christians
The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church has recently approved the new draft family bylaws for Christians. I was not able to read the draft bylaws since it has not yet been officially released to the public. Ever since its approval was announced, though, the public opinion and media have been engrossed with looking into how the bylaws tackle the problems of divorce and remarriage, admittedly among the most agonising problems facing Christians. From what has already been published in the media about the new bylaws, it is obvious they deal with divorce and remarriage in a manner more lenient than previous laws, therefore can potentially resolve many problems that shatter Christian families.
For a new family law for Christians to see light, the Catholic and Evangelical Churches in Egypt should approve the draft bylaws which should then be referred to the Justice Minister in order to place before parliament to pass as a unified family law for Christians in Egypt. Article 3 of Egypt’s Constitution stipulates that:
“The canons of Egyptian Christians and Jews are the main source of legislation for their respective personal status [family] laws, religious affairs, and the selection of their spiritual leaders”.
As much as I was relieved at the more lenient measures for divorce and remarriage, I was troubled because the news circulated regarding the new bylaws include nothing about inheritance laws for Christians, an issue that has for years irked me, and which I repeatedly wrote about. I believe that confronting the issue of inheritance through including it in the family law for Christians is a historic opportunity to regain the lost equality between men and women on that score. It is also a chance for the Egyptian Church to offer an exemplary model of real gender equality to the nation in its entirety.
Current Egyptian inheritance laws follow Islamic sharia which stipulates that a man should inherit double the share of a woman. So far there has been no Christian legislation on inheritance, where inheritance is divided equally between men and women. Previous constitutions did not recognise special legislation for Christians; accordingly, Christians had to submit to Islamic inheritance laws. With Article 3 of the Constitution now in place, Christians have the right to apply their own legislation in family matters; it is self evident that inheritance is a major family concern. I again point out that this is a historic opportunity we should not miss, and for what may be the last chance call on Pope Tawadros, the Holy Synod, and all the parties concerned with the bylaws to swiftly set this right.
Lest anyone think that I am venturing on hollow non-grounded rhetoric, let me remind that I already presented twice last February excerpts of Fathi Ragheb Hanna’s 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). Mr Hanna is a lawyer with the Constitutional Court and the Court of Cassation.
In his book Mr Hanna details the historical and legal backing that equate Christian men and women in inheritance. He explains 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 force 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. 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.
I can only wonder why did inheritance rules fall out of the recently approved bylaws of the family law for Christians?
20 March 2016