New York Times: January 28, 2000
Egypt Makes It Easier for Women to
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
Under the measure, divorce would still be more complicated for a
woman than a man, reflecting the conservative nature of this
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
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.