Divorrce Made Easier for Egyptian Women

New York Times: January 28, 2000

 

 

Egypt Makes It Easier for Women to

Divorce Husbands

 

By SUSAN SACHS

 

          CAIRO, Jan. 27 -- After an impassioned debate about Islam, the

          family and the role of women, Parliament voted today to give

          women the ability to divorce their husbands without having to first prove

          to judges that they had been mistreated.

 

          President Hosni Mubarak, whose party controls the 454-member

          Parliament, had proposed the hotly debated legislation and is widely

          expected to sign it in a week.

 

          Opponents of the change argued that Islam, the dominant religion, gives

          only men the right to initiate divorces. They said extending the right to

          women, who were described as emotionally capricious and vengeful in

          discussions in Parliament and the media, would lead to a mass

          breakdown of family life.

 

          Proponents said even the Prophet Muhammad had allowed an unhappy

          woman to end her marriage against her husband's wishes, although she

          was first ordered to return her dowry.

 

          Many leading clerics supported the change, including the

          government-appointed mufti and the sheik of Al Azhar University in

          Cairo, the oldest Islamic teaching institution in the world.

 

          "This is a victory for women who spend years and years of their lives

          seeking divorce and never getting it," Hosn Shah, a writer and one of the

          newly vocal women who campaigned for the changes, said. "These rules

          were in the Islamic law 1,400 years ago. But it is men who do not apply

          them."

 

          Under the measure, divorce would still be more complicated for a

          woman than a man, reflecting the conservative nature of this

          male-oriented society.

 

          A woman would have two choices. She could use the current procedure,

          which requires a wife to have witnesses to prove to a judge in family

          court that her husband had behaved badly enough to justify divorce,

          perhaps because he beat her or had failed to provide for her. That

          process is usually protracted and usually ends in a ruling against the wife.

          Still, 1.5 million such requests are filed each year, according to

          government statistics.

 

          A new option would be to demand a divorce based on simple

          incompatibility. But a woman would have to wait six months if she has

          children or three months if she does not while a judge tries to reconcile

          the partners. If she still wants the divorce, a judge would have to grant it.

          But the woman would have to return all money, property and gifts that

          she received in the marriage and forgo alimony.

 

          "This will only lead to more and more splits within the society," Ayman

          Nour, a member of Parliament who opposed the change, said. "This law

          will instigate women to be corrupt. A woman could just get together with

          another man and agree to divorce her husband."

 

          A Muslim man in Egypt can now end a marriage by saying, "I divorce

          thee," three times or, in a bureaucratic version of the same ancient Islamic

          custom, by filing a paper with a government registrar that declares that he

          is divorcing his wife.

 

          Under the change, a man would be required to file the divorce paper.

          The situation for Christians, Egypt, estimated to make up 6 percent of

          Egypt's population, would remain burdensome, because religious courts

          administer family law. Unless they can prove that their husbands have

          committed adultery, the church rarely grants Christian women divorces.

          Only if a woman converts to Islam would she be able to take advantage

          of the new law.

 

          Mr. Mubarak proposed even broader legislation to benefit married

          women that would have also let them obtain passports or travel abroad

          without their husbands' permission. But in an apparent compromise with

          conservative legislators, Parliament dropped that provision.