Egypt woment start a revolution in divorce laws

 

The Independent (UK)- 25 January 2000

 Egypt women start a revolution in divorce laws

 

By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

 

 

                               Islamic-based divorce laws that have long discriminated

                               against Egyptian women are expected to be reformed.

 

                               A controversial new Bill, to be put before the overwhelmingly

                               male parliament today, would go some way towards balancing

                               rules that give men the automatic right to divorce but demand

                               that women produce convincing evidence of ill treatment.

                               Under the Bill women could, for the first time, initiate divorce on

                               the basis of straightforward incompatibility. It would also allow

                               them to go to court if their husbands prevent them from

                               travelling abroad.

 

                               But Egyptian men, who can divorce their wives simply by

                               uttering "I divorce thee" three times, have reacted with shock

                               and anger to the prospect of seeing their marital supremacy

                               eroded. Many argue that Egyptian women are too irrational to

                               be allowed to initiate divorce and that they would misuse the

                               right.

 

                               The proposed changes, which are backed by President Hosni

                               Mubarak's government, have triggered a furious national

                               debate that has revealed the depths of the country's

                               conservatism. Cartoons in the national newspapers yesterday

                               depicted women with moustaches and men in shackles

                               pushing prams.

 

                               "Women have their unique physiological nature, different from

                               any other living being," said Ahmed Abu Hijji, an MP from the

                               traditionally conservative south. "At certain times every month,

                               they become short-tempered and changeable and they might

                               try to divorce just because of that. It's a very dangerous thing."

 

                               Women activists hope the new law will help change such

                               chauvinist attitudes and begin to revolutionise sexual relations

                               but are concerned about an important catch. To obtain the

                               divorce, the woman would have to pay back the dowry her

                               husband gave at the time of the marriage, and forgo alimony

                               payments. "Poor women will not be able to afford it," said Hoda

                               Badran, a feminist. "These changes will largely benefit wealthy

                               women who are the only ones likely to travel abroad or be able

                               to buy their way out of a marriage."

 

                               The Bill has the support of Egypt's highest Muslim authorities

                               but many men argue that it is un-Islamic and a recipe for the

                               destruction of the Egyptian family. One MP said his

                               constituents would rather go to jail than implement the

                               changes, and argued they would lead to an increase in

                               violence against women. "I believe there will be lots of women

                               murdered because a man won't tolerate a woman leaving

                               them, and might suspect she has been having an affair," he

                               said.

 

                               Parliament gave the Bill preliminary approval last Sunday and

                               today MPs will start going through it clause by clause before a

                               final vote. If passed, it will be a significant step in what women

                               activists say is a long struggle ahead.

 

                               "When a man knows a woman can take action against him,

                               he'll be obliged to respect her more and not abuse her," said

                               Iqbal Barakat, the editor of the women's weekly al-Hawa.