The numerous current issues that carry urgency on local and international fronts have, predictably, crowded out other significant topics which have long been awaiting action or decisions. The unified family law for Christians is one such topic; pressing and important as it is, it has been eclipsed by national challenges that include the issues of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Libyan crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and, lately, the groundwork for Senate elections.
I last evoked the issue of the unified family law for Christians in March 2020. I wrote with optimism, given that the three major Egyptian Churches: the Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical, had approved the final draft of the law to submit to the government which would in turn set it up as a personal status (family) bill for Christians, as it is officially labelled. It would then turn it over to the House of Representatives for discussion, approval, and passage into law.
Even though the prospective unified personal status law for Christians includes chapters and articles that tackle all aspects of Christian family matters, I have been especially keen on its including a chapter on inheritance that would stipulate, according to Christian principles, full equality between men and women in inheritance shares. This equality has long been obscured, as courts mainly resorted to applying the Qur’anic principle that a man inherits double the share of a woman, even though no such rule exists in Christianity. This has jeopardised the rights and dignity of Christian women. I am still hopeful that achieving this equality between men and women in the unified family law for Christians would pave the road for similar legislation for our fellow Muslims. If so, Egypt would catch up with Tunisia whose government approved in 2018 a bill for equality between men and women in inheritance shares, and has submitted it to parliament for approval.
Today, as we await passage of the unified family law for Christians, I am yet vigilant for any positive signs to apply this frequently absent justice. I have been keen to highlight court rulings that assert equality between men and women in inheritance shares. It is true that some of these rulings involve intricacies particular to the parties to the case in question, yet they remain a source of optimism for other plaintiffs until the unified family law for Christians is passed.
In June 2019, I wrote about a ruling issued by the Cairo Court of Appeals, circuit 158 personal status affairs. The court ruling, which was final and definitive, ruled that Coptic Orthodox men and women inherit equal shares, according to Article 3 of the Constitution and Article 247 of the current Coptic Orthodox family bylaws. The legal reasoning behind the new ruling declared that Article 247 of the Family Bylaws for the Coptic Orthodox stipulates that if a person dies leaving no children or living parents, the spouse should be given his/her share of inheritance, and the remaining part of the estate should be equally divided between the brothers and sisters of the deceased, provided they are full brothers and sisters.
Once again, on 20 May 2020, the Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling. The Cairo Court of Appeals, circuit 8 family affairs, endorsed a ruling issued by the Family Court of Nasr City and appealed before the Cairo Court of Appeals, regarding a dispute over the inheritance shares of full brothers and sisters. The ruling number 1797 for 2015, Family Court Nasr City, confirmed the decease of the Christian woman M.Y.B.; declaring that her estate goes solely to her husband M.S.H. who is entitled to half of her estate, and her three brothers and two sisters who are entitled to the remaining half in equal shares between men and women; the ruling confirmed the nonexistence of any other inheritor. The court based its ruling on Article 3/2 of Law number 1 for 2000 which stipulated that in cases of disputes that concern family affairs for non-Muslim Egyptians belonging to the same sect and who had until 31 December 1955 been subject to the Melli judicial authorities, rulings must be based on their doctrines in what does not oppose public order. Accordingly, the Bylaws for the Coptic Orthodox must be applied in this case, as per Article 247 of the same bylaws, which stipulates that if a person dies leaving no children or living parents, the spouse should be given his/her share of inheritance, and the remaining part of the estate should be equally divided between the brothers and sisters of the deceased, provided they are full brothers and sisters, without discrimination between brother and sister.
This represents another case where our judiciary has asserted equality in inheritance shares between Christian men and women. Meanwhile, we await passage of the unified family law for Christians. We are still full of hope that Egypt will catch up with modernity through entrenching equality in inheritance shares for all Egyptian women across the board.
24 July 2020