12 - 18 September 2002
Issue No. 603
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Obituary:

Lady of the law

Mufida Abdel-Rahman: (1914-2002)


Mufida Abdel-Rahman
Mufida Abdel-Rahman, one of Egypt's first female lawyers died on 3 September at the age of 88. Abdel-Rahman was instrumental in securing rights for women in the realm of marriage, and was active in politics and social work. Although her activism landed her in the pages of the country's newspapers, it was her professional competence as a lawyer that first brought her to public attention.

Abdel-Rahman was among the first generation of women to graduate from King Fouad I University's Faculty of Law in 1939; the first woman to take cases to the Court of Cassation, the highest in Egypt; the first woman to plead a case before a military court, and before courts in the country's conservative south. She became especially known for representing defendants in drug-related cases.

Abdel-Rahman married in 1933 and was encouraged by her husband Mohamed Abdel- Latif -- who was 17 years her senior and already married to two women -- to enter the Faculty of Law in 1935. That decision made her the first married woman to enroll in King Fouad I University, (now Cairo University) and the first to graduate as a mother. After graduation, she articled with two of the great masters of law at that time, Ahmed Rushdi and Abdel-Razeq El-Samhouri, successfully building up her own clientele in the popular district of Ghouriya.

At the outset of her career, Abdel-Rahman was hired because her family was well-known in the district and she charged less than other lawyers (a bag of fruit was often her pay), but as she developed her prowess in court, her reputation soared. In the 1950s she was a defence lawyer in the famous political trials against a group of people charged with conspiring against the state.

Abdel-Rahman was the only woman to participate in the work of the committee for the Modification of Status Laws for Muslims that was established in the mid-1960s. These laws regulated family matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance on the basis of Islamic and civil law. The draft law prepared by the committee was a turning point, as it took into consideration the major social changes that had recently occurred such as the entrance of women into the workforce.

Abdel-Rahman became interested in politics in the 1930s when she joined the Women's Union, led by Hoda Sha'arawi. In 1959, she became a member of parliament for the Cairo districts of Ghouriya and Ezbekiya, and was an active deputy for 17 consecutive years.

By the 1990s, after arguing some 400 court cases, Abdel-Rahman slowed down, only attending a handful of court sessions and leaving the bulk of the work to her partner and son Ismail.

Abdel-Rahman juggled her career with the raising of nine children while also serving as a board member for several organisations. These included the National Conference of the Socialist Union, the board of the Bar Association, Al-Gomhouriya Bank, the National Union, the Council of University Unions and the Postal Authority Council. She was also one of the founders of the Women of Islam Society, holding the post of chairwoman for several years.

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