Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1427, (24 - 30 January 2019)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1427, (24 - 30 January 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Amending personal status

Al-Azhar has almost finished drafting a new personal status law, writes Gamal Essam El-Din


Amending personal status
Amending personal status

Abdallah Mabrouk Al-Naggar, a member of the Islamic Research Complex affiliated with Al-Azhar, has told reporters that “a committee entrusted with drafting a new personal status law has held 30 meetings since October 2017 and is about to refer the newly amended legislation to parliament.”

Al-Naggar said the Integrated Personal Status Law covers marriage and divorce and regulates the relationship between family members in a way that works in the best interest of children.

“The law also tackles some controversial family issues such as inheritance, alimony, dowry and custody,” said Al-Naggar.

“The Wafd and the Conservatives parties presented amended versions of the law, as did the National Council for Women and some women rights groups,” says National Council for Women member MP Heba Hagras. “Given Article 7 of the constitution and parliament’s own by-laws require issues related to Islamic Sharia to be revised by Al-Azhar, parliament decided to refer all of the draft versions to the Sunni institution for revision.”

Though the draft laws were also referred to the Higher Council for Justice, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, and the minister of finance for their input Hagras stresses the opinion of the referents are advisory and parliament has the final say on the law.

“The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb decided in October 2017 that Al-Azhar should have its own version of the personal status law,” says Al-Naggar. “A committee was formed to take charge of this and to revise draft laws prepared by MPs, political parties and civil society organisations.”

Hoda Badran, head of Egypt’s Women Union, said in an interview that there is a pressing need for an overhaul of the host of different laws governing personal affairs.

“We have separate laws on personal affairs, family courts, inheritance, custody and on procedures of litigation in matters of personal status,” she said. Badran argues that the fact “divorce and alimony cases constitute 70 per cent of the total of cases filed with family courts shows existing laws are not working and need to be amended and a new personal status law drafted”.

“The Women’s Union has submitted its own version of a new personal status law to parliament, the Ministry of Justice and the National Council for Motherhood and Childhood. It also covers engagement issues and stipulates that family courts be exclusively mandated to judge personal status affairs.”

“Our draft law abrogates verbal divorce — the convention that a husband need only say enti taleq” (you are divorced) to divorce his wife, in favour of documented divorces which require the consent of both parties. It also stipulates that a woman whose husband decides to take a second wife without her consent should be automatically allowed to ask for divorce,” said Badran.

The contentious issue of verbal divorce has been the subject of a clash between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Al-Azhar. Al-Sisi said verbal divorce lay at the root of many personal status and family disputes and asked for divorce to be more strictly regulated. The grand imam of Al-Azhar, however, insists verbal divorce is part of Islamic Sharia.

“It is time to decide what kind of Islam we want to implement in the 21st century,” says professor of Islamic law and MP Amna Nosseir. “It is clear that Al-Azhar clerics want a mediaeval Islam which treats women as second class citizens. But it is no longer viable for a man to divorce his wife by just uttering a few words. The new personal status law also needs to be drafted in a way that closes legislative loopholes that allow men to divorce their wives without paying alimony.”

“Despite some progress discriminatory legal provisions which undermine women’s status continue to exist,” says Nosseir. “All forms of discrimination against women should be eliminated and a first step towards this is to amend laws regulating personal affairs.”

According to Margaret Azer, a member of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, “Egypt’s Christians are looking forward to a new version of the Personal Status Law.”

“We hope that parliament will be able to reach a formula that satisfies both Muslims and Christians. This will require a wide-ranging debate on the draft versions to ensure they support the interests of parents, children and family life in general.”

“To this end parliament’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee will be holding hearing sessions with lawyers, experts, counsellors and family court officials as well as with families affected by the existing Personal Status Law and concerned civil society organisations.”

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