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II. Background

The Egyptian government’s obstruction of a woman’s right to divorce exemplifies its unwillingness to grant women legal equality. Profoundly discriminatory family, penal, and civil laws reinforce the unequal status of women in the family and in Egyptian society. Laws condoning domestic violence and policies that exclude women from the judicial bench foster and perpetuate women’s second-class status.

Women’s Status in Egypt

The State shall guarantee coordination between a woman’s duties toward her family and her work in the society, considering her equal to man in the political, social, cultural and economic spheres without detriment to the rules of Islamic jurisprudence (Shari’a).

Article 11, Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt

Despite some improvements in their status over the past few decades, women remain worse off than men in Egypt by just about any measure. In 2000, the last year for which statistics are available, an estimated 56 percent of adult Egyptian women were illiterate as compared to 33 percent of adult men.1 Women’s health and lives continue to be jeopardized in Egypt by harmful customary practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), which is practiced on an estimated 97 percent of ever-married women in Egypt.2 Women constitute only 21 percent of the labor force.3 On average, women are paid only 76 percent of men’s wages in the private sector and 86 percent in the public sector.4 An estimated 19 percent of women are unemployed compared to 5 percent of men.5 The share of women members in the Egyptian parliament does not exceed 3 percent in the lower house and 6 percent in the upper house.6 Rural women in Egypt are even worse off than their urban counterparts. In rural areas, although 20 percent of agricultural workers are women, they own only 6 percent of the land. They are also often prevented from exerting meaningful control over the little land they own since they are routinely coerced into surrendering control of land to their husbands or male relatives.7

Women’s second-class status translates into a lack of decision-making power in the family, even on the most intimate aspects of their lives. Many Egyptian women are forced into marriages by a male relative (usually their fathers), often before adulthood. As many as 20 percent of Egyptian women aged twenty to twenty-four were married by the age of eighteen.8 Among adolescents, as many as 9 percent of those aged fifteen to nineteen and as many as 20 percent of those age nineteen had already given birth to at least one child.9 Early marriage and childbearing does not only jeopardize a girl’s education, but can also puts her life at risk; early marriages increase the risk of maternal and infant mortality and make girls more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.10  Forced marriage, a slavery-like practice,11 violates a number of international human rights norms, including the right to freely enter into marriage, the right to personal liberty and security, and the right to bodily integrity. Forced and early marriages are particularly acute in rural areas.

A number of Egypt’s laws and certain provisions in its constitution maintain and perpetuate women’s unequal status. Article 40 of the constitution states: “all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination due to sex, ethnic origin, language, religion or creed.”12 Yet, article 11 of the constitution places certain limitations on women’s enjoyment of their rights. While article 11 explicitly refers to women’s equality in the “political, social, cultural, and economic spheres,” it leaves room for the denial of these rights if they are interpreted to be at odds with Islamic jurisprudence.13 

Although women have nominal equality under article 40 of Egypt’s constitution, gender inequality persists in Egyptian society and numerous laws directly violate these constitutional guarantees. Under article 4 of ministerial decree14 No. 864 (1974), an Egyptian woman may not be issued a passport without the prior written consent of her husband or his legal representative. The law also allows the husband to reverse this consent at any time.15  Under this decree, a husband can prevent his wife from traveling, even if he had given his consent to her obtaining a passport or making previous trips. Although there was a proposal to change this law in 2000, the Egyptian government decided to drop this provision from the draft law just before passage, reportedly as a concession to religious conservatives, despite the fact that Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Shaikh of al-Azhar University,16 had supported the new law even with this provision. Despite a 2003 reform to the citizenship law, Egyptian women still have an unequal right to pass on their nationality to their children if they marry foreigners.17  

Provisions of the penal code also discriminate against women. Egyptian law imposes harsher penalties for women committing adultery. A wife is penalized for two years,18 whereas a husband is penalized for no more than six months.19 For adultery, the evidentiary standards are different for women and men. While a wife is penalized for committing adultery anywhere, a husband must do so in the marital home in order for such an act to be considered adulterous.20  The murder of a wife (but not a husband) in the act of committing adultery is categorized as an extenuating circumstance, thereby commuting the crime of murder to the level of a misdemeanor.21 

The Egyptian Women’s Rights Movement

The Egyptian women’s movement, considered by many to be the forerunner of the Arab women’s rights movement,22 has been actively working to repeal discriminatory laws and advance women’s status in Egypt for decades. As early as 1951, Egyptian feminist Doria Shafiq and 1,500 other women stormed parliament demanding full political rights, a reform of the personal status laws, and equal pay for equal work.23 Today, there are an estimated 16,000 NGOs working on various issues aimed at empowering Egyptian women.24 However, the movement has suffered considerable setbacks over the past twenty years due to the rise of a general climate of religious conservatism adverse to women’s rights, widening state restrictions on civil society, and the cooptation of the women’s rights agenda by the government.

Women’s rights are often the main battleground for the ongoing confrontation between successive Egyptian governments and those seeking to increase the Islamic character of the Egyptian state. This has led some observers to mark the 1980s and 1990s as the beginning of Egyptian women’s “endangered rights.”25 Successive Egyptian governments have routinely compromised certain rights to appease religiously-conservative elements in Egyptian society. For example, the government of the late Anwar Sadat decided to amend the Egyptian constitution in 1980, in order to make Shari’a “the principle source of Egyptian legislation.”26 In this constrained environment, any departure from conservative interpretations of religious text by women’s rights activists has resulted in a backlash. Egyptian women who have raised concern about women’s status, particularly within the family under Egypt’s Shari’a-based personal status laws, have been accused of being “pro-western (i.e. feminist, liberal, or secular), antagonistic to Islam, and influenced by leftist ideologies.”27 

The rise in religious conservatism is not the only reason for the setbacks of the past twenty years. The Egyptian women’s movement is also affected by the state’s severe restrictions on civil society. Law No. 84 of 2002 (“the NGO law”), which requires all groups to register with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, greatly restricts the space for nongovernmental activism.28 Many Egyptian NGOs view this requirement to register as a curtailment of their expression and association rights as well as a transparent attempt by the government to approve some NGOs and deem others illegal.  Although women’s rights groups were not necessarily the intended targets of the NGO law, they have been adversely affected by its restrictions. For example, on June 8, 2003, the New Woman Research Center, founded in the early 1990s to raise public awareness of women’s rights issues (including FGM and domestic violence), received a letter from the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs rejecting its application to register under the terms of a new law governing the activities of NGOs.29 On June 15, 1991, the government closed the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association (AWSA), headed by secular feminist and author Nawal al-Sa`dawi, and reassigned its license and assets to an Islamic women’s organization.30

The space for independent women’s rights activism has been further eroded by government efforts to monopolize the women’s rights agenda through the National Council for Women. The National Council for Women (NCW) was established by presidential decree in 2000 as an “autonomous body responsible for the empowerment of the Egyptian woman.”31 However, the autonomy of the NCW, which is presided over by First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, is questionable. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, several representatives of NGOs, who did not wish to be named, expressed concern that the channeling of considerable resources from international donors to the NCW ultimately furthers government control of the women’s rights agenda and weakens civil society.32 The independence of the NCW and its willingness to publicly criticize laws or policies adverse to women’s rights is also undermined by the fact that it is housed in the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters in Cairo. 

Egypt’s Discriminatory Personal Status Laws

Egypt’s personal status laws present a particularly egregious example of discrimination. The discriminatory personal status laws governing marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance in Egypt deny women many of the rights protected under international human rights law. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, these laws have institutionalized the inferior status of women in the family, undermining their legal standing in both the private and public realms. Personal status laws treat women essentially as legal minors under the eternal guardianship of male family members. These laws “deal with women as part of the regulation of the organization of the family, not as individuals with their own separate or equal rights.”33

Despite advances women have made in Egypt in other areas, such as education and access to the public space, family law remains relatively unchanged and continues to undermine women’s full personhood in society. Personal status laws have been the most resistant to change, because in Egypt, “women are perceived as the bearers and perpetuators of cultural values and social mores,” which “increases the resistance to any change in their status or the laws that govern their lives.”34 Unlike the rest of the Egyptian legal system derived from French civil law,35 personal status laws for Muslim Egyptians36 rely predominantly on Islamic law (Shari’a).37  These religious-based personal status laws violate equality provisions in Egypt’s constitution because, as one scholar has noted, “while the latter [the constitution] guarantees equal rights for all citizens, the former [personal status laws] extends privileges to men in the family (in the areas of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody) which are denied to women.”38

All three of Egypt’s presidents since independence, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar al-Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak, despite remarkably different political orientations, were, to different degrees, public proponents of women’s rights. However, they all shied away from directly addressing the stark gender inequality codified in Egypt’s personal status laws, which date back to the 1920s. Despite their varying efforts to advance Egyptian women’s status in the public sphere, they left the personal status laws in the implicit hands of the religious establishment, which was willing to ensure the religious character of the state by preserving male dominance at home. These contradictory tendencies have resulted in “the very anomalous situation of [Egyptian] women, who, even though they have gained more public rights (to education, work, and political participation), still confront serious forms of gender inequality in the family.”39

While President Nasser’s 1962 National Charter, a “blueprint for socialist transformation in Egypt,” endorsed equality for women in voting, education, and employment, the gender inequities institutionalized by the personal status laws remained entirely intact.40  It was under the leadership of President Sadat that the discrimination codified in Egypt’s personal status laws started to be addressed.  In 1979, President Sadat introduced several reforms (known as Jihan’s laws,41 for First Lady Jihan Sadat) to the personal status law. One of these reforms included Law 44, establishing polygyny as a ground for divorce in itself.42 While polygyny has always been a grounds for divorce, women need to provide evidence of “material/physical or moral harm making it impossible for both of the spouses to associate any longer with each other” resulting from the second union.43 Passed during a parliamentary recess and subsequently approved by the legislature, these reforms were later deemed unconstitutional by the High Constitutional Court under Mubarak’s government in 1985. A strong women’s lobby at the 1985 United Nations World Conference on Women in Nairobi pressured the government to reformulate the laws; two months after the decision by the High Constitutional Court, a new law was passed restoring some of the provisions of the 1979 law.44 While certain procedural amendments to the personal status laws45 have been made under President Mubarak, the government has demonstrated reluctance in tackling these laws head on.

Domestic Violence in Egypt

A man has the right in Shari’a to discipline his wife. This is a fact. You cannot deprive him of it. But, this is a right in the Shari’a that is not enforced. God says that the best of you will never use this power.

— Hossam Abu-Yusif, state council deputy, Cairo, June 25, 2004

Domestic violence is a widespread and commonly accepted phenomenon in Egypt. According to some observers, “violence against women [in Egypt] is often understood as merely a problem of well-intentioned discipline getting out of hand.”46 The government fails to keep accurate and up-to-date statistics on the levels of violence against women, making it extremely difficult to assess the nature and degree of such violence, the rates of prosecution and conviction, or the nature of punishment meted out in such cases. In fact, the last national survey that included statistics on domestic violence – the Egypt Demographic and Health Survey administered by the National Population Center (“the 1995 Survey”) – was conducted almost a decade ago.47

The findings of the 1995 survey were startling. The survey’s sample included 7,000 married women ranging from fifteen to forty-nine years of age. It found that one out of every three “ever-married Egyptian women have been beaten at least once since marriage.” Of those women, 45 percent were beaten at least once in the past year and 17 percent were beaten three or more times during the same period. Forty percent of women between the ages of fifteen to nineteen and 20 percent of women forty to forty-nine years old reported being beaten during pregnancy. Women with only a primary school education or no education were three or more times more likely to be abused as compared with women who had completed secondary or higher education.48

The 1995 Survey also assessed attitudes toward violence. It found that violence was so normalized in Egyptian society that nearly 86 percent of the women surveyed thought that husbands were justified in beating their wives under certain circumstances. On average, 70 percent of the women surveyed between the ages of fifteen to forty-nine felt that husbands were justified in beating wives who refused sex. An estimated 70 percent of women between the ages of twenty and twenty-nine surveyed by the National Population Center said that violence was justified if a woman “talked back” to their husbands; 65 percent said a beating was justified for talking to another man; 42 percent for spending too much money; 26 percent for burning dinner; and 50 percent for neglecting the children. 49 Perhaps reflecting the social acceptance of violence against women in Egyptian society, many of the women that Human Rights Watch interviewed also endorsed domestic violence as a legitimate form of punishment for disobedience. 

While these figures are high, they are perhaps not surprising.  Many Egyptian women are accustomed to tolerating violence because the “disciplining” of “disobedient” women is sanctioned under Egyptian law.  Section 60 of the Criminal Code states that “the provisions of the penal code shall not apply to any deed committed in good faith, pursuant to a right determined by virtue of the Shari’a.”50 This law, applying to any act of violence committed in “good faith,” has been used to justify domestic violence. Under the law, acts committed in “good faith” are described as circumstances in which:

  1. the beating is not severe;
  2. the beating is not directed at the face; and
  3. the beating is not aimed at vulnerable “fatal blow areas.”51

Absence of Female Criminal Prosecutors and Judges

It is a fight between those who are convinced that women are not qualified to be judges – you’ll hear a hundred justifications [for this] – and the few that are enlightened, convinced that women can be judges. [But] they are powerless.

— Hossam Abu-Yusif, state council deputy, Cairo, June 25, 2004

Current governmental practice denies Egyptian women the opportunity to become judges. Their exclusion from the bench is not codified in any law (religious or secular) or in the constitution, but is simply a matter of standard practice based on stereotypical and biased views about women. By excluding women from the bench, Egypt is not only violating internationally protected equality provisions, but it is also blatantly violating its obligation to “guarantee equality of opportunity to all Egyptians” under its own constitution. 52

The Supreme Council of Judges continues to reject the applications of all women applying to join the criminal department of the public prosecutor’s office (al niyaba al `amma) from which junior judges are chosen. The rejection of these applications is sometimes made without comment, while on other occasions the applicant’s gender is explicitly noted as the reason for the rejection.53 Occasionally, rejected female candidates file suits before Egypt’s administrative courts demanding to have their application reconsidered. However, the administrative courts, while often backing the candidate’s professional qualifications, have consistently upheld the right of the Supreme Council of Judges to make its own decisions.54 This process was overridden only once with the appointment by presidential decree of attorney Tahany al-Gebali, in 2003, to the High Constitutional Court. Both President Mubarak and First Lady Suzanne Mubarak supported the appointment, making it impossible for the Supreme Council of Judges to challenge the decision. A year later, Tahany al-Gebali remains the only female sitting judge in Egypt. Her appointment does not appear to have opened the door for the appointment of a future generation of female Egyptian judges.55 

Judges and other representatives of the Ministry of Justice were outspoken in their opposition to the inclusion of women on the judicial bench. They gave deeply discriminatory reasons for why women should not be criminal prosecutors or judges.  One judge who did not wish to be named told Human Rights Watch:

The nature of judicial work is very exhausting and requires that a judge not have his home in mind.… Judges are regularly transferred outside of Cairo…Will husbands allow their wives to live outside of the home? Will a family be able to bear it? 56

It was also suggested that women easily succumb to emotions, preventing them from making competent decisions. When asked why he thought women should not be judges, another judge told Human Rights Watch, “if a judge is tired, anxious, angry, or not in the right psychological or biological state of mind, they should not hear cases.”56 

Aside from these discriminatory reasons, government officials frequently offered cultural sensitivities as the primary justification for the continued exclusion of women from the judiciary. The chief judicial inspector, Judge `Abd al-Rahman Muhammad, told Human Rights Watch:

The Egyptian law and the constitution do not differentiate between men and women. We have women heads of universities, ambassadors - there is no difference. But there are some jobs like the job of prosecutors and judges, which women have not entered yet because society cannot accept it. If they go into that profession, they will have to work on criminal cases. The nature [of the work] is not suitable for women because they have to investigate murder, arson, rape. We still cannot imagine that a girl can play that role. When the culture of the people changes maybe they’ll accept it. With time, maybe the culture will change.57

The absence of women’s voices in the judiciary renders the entire judicial process suspect. If members of certain religious, ethnic, or racial minorities, for example, were not allowed to become judges, members of that group could not help but feel alienated and disempowered in the courtroom. Nowhere is the absence of female judges more glaring than in matters relating to the family. Absent female voices and input informing the judiciary’s attitudes and approaches to legal questions, particularly in matters relating to marriage and divorce, the judiciary as a whole cannot claim to have a balanced and neutral framework through which it adjudicates family disputes. The ability of male judges to sufficiently appreciate the concerns of women seeking divorce is rendered questionable by the lack of participation of women in the judiciary. 

[1] World Bank, Egypt: Summary Gender Profile [online],Egypt,%20Arab%20Rep.&hm=home (retrieved August 3, 2004). 

[2] Egypt Demographic and Health Survey 2000 quoted in World Bank, Gender Assessment: Arab Republic of Egypt, 1998, p. 16.

[3] World Bank, Gender Assessment: Arab Republic of Egypt, 1998, p. 50.

[4] Ibid., p. 59.

[5] Ibid., p. 57.

[6] See UNIFEM, “New study on Egyptian Women,” March 2004. Supported by CAPMAS (Egypt’s National Department of Statistics).

[7] World Bank, Gender Assessment: Arab Republic of Egypt, 1998, p. 56.

[8] World Bank, Gender Assessment: Arab Republic of Egypt, 2003, p. 18.

[9] Ibid.

[10] For a discussion of the human rights aspects of early marriage, see Early Marriage, Child Spouses, Innocenti Digest No. 7, March 2001, [online] (Retrieved September 1, 2004). For a more extensive treatment of how human rights abuses against women and girls fuel the AIDS epidemic in Africa, see Human Rights Watch, Policy Paralysis: A Call for Action on HIV/AIDS-Related Human Rights Abuses Against Women and Girls in Africa (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2003).

[11] Article 1(a) of the Supplementary Slavery Convention prohibits “any institution or practice whereby …a woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or kind.” This provision reinforces the guarantee, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of marriage only with “the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”  ICCPR, art. 23.

[12] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, article 40.

[13] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, article 11.

[14] Egyptian legislation is instituted according to the following hierarchy: the Constitution, parliamentary legislation, presidential decree, prime minister’s decree, ministerial decision and acts of governors and heads of governmental bodies and public corporations. Laws, Presidential decrees, and Decrees of the Prime Minister are published in Egypt's Official Gazette, usually within two weeks of their issuance, and, unless they provide otherwise, they become effective one month from the date of publication.

[15] Marlyn Tadros, Rightless Women, Heartless Men: Egyptian Women and Domestic Violence : A report on Domestic Violence in Manshiet Nasser, An informal Settlement in Cairo (Cairo: Legal Research and Resource Center for Human Rights, 2001), p. 3.

[16] Al-Azhar University based in Cairo is considered by most Sunni Muslims to be the most prestigious school of Islamic law.

[17] See Citizenship Law No. 26 (1975). An amendment made by President Mubarak in May 2003 allows Egyptian women married to foreigner to pass their nationality to their children under certain limited conditions. However, the new law continues to prohibit these children from joining the military, the police and certain governmental posts. For more information see, Reem Leila, “Citizens at Last,”  Al-Ahram Weekly, October 8, 2004 [online] and Maria Golia, “Egypt’s New Nationality Law doesn’t Bar Discrimination,” The Daily Star, May 19, 2004 [online] (retrieved August 29, 2004).

[18] Law No. 58 (1937) Promulgating the Penal Code, article 274. As recently as October 2002, the Committee on Civil and Political Rights expressed concern about “the discriminatory nature of some provisions in the Penal Code, which do not treat men and women equally in matters of adultery (articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant)” and  recommended that Egypt “review its discriminatory penal provisions in order to conform to articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant.” See Concluding Observations, Committee on Civil and Political Rights, U.N. Doc CCPR A/58/40 (2003), para. 9.

[19] Law No. 58 (1937) Promulgating the Penal Code, article 277.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Article 237 of the Egyptian Penal Code reads “Whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punished with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in articles 234 [permanent or temporary  hard labor] and 236 [hard labor or imprisonment for a period of three to seven years]. ” For more information on commuted sentences for “fit of fury” crimes and the misapplication of these laws in “honor” crimes cases, see Human Rights Watch, Honoring the Killers: Justice Denied for “Honor” Crimes in Jordan (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2004).

[22] Egyptian attorney and author Qasem Amin, for example, wrote “The Emancipation of Women” (Tahrir al-Maraa) in 1899 and Egyptian activist Hoda Shaarawi founded the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923.

[23] Cynthia Nelson, Doria Shafiq: Egyptian Feminist - A Woman Apart  (Cairo: American University in Cairo Press, 1996), pp. 168-177.

[24] See Mona Zulficar, The Political Rights of Women in Egypt  (Cairo: Shalakany Law Office Publication, 2003), p. 6.

[25] Denis Sullivan and Sana Abed-Kotob, Islam in Contemporary Egypt: Civil Society vs. the State. London, 1999. pp. 97-100.

[26] Prior to this amendment, article 2 of the Egyptian constitution stated: “Islamic Shari’a is a principle source of Egyptian legislation [emphasis added].” See Clark Benner Lombardi, “Islamic Law as a Source of Constitutional Law in Egypt: The Constitutionalization of the Shari’a in a Modern Arab State,” Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, vol.37, 1998, p. 81. 

[27] See Diane Singerman, “Rewriting Divorce in Egypt: Reclaiming Islam, Legal Activism, and Coalition Politics,” p. 6. This article is forthcoming in Civic Pluralist Islam: Prospects and Policies for a Changing Muslim World  (copy on file with Human Rights Watch). Singerman argues that given Egypt’s current religious climate, the passage of the khula law would not have been possible without referencing its Islamic roots.      

[28] This law was passed by the People’s Assembly on June 3, 2002 and provides criminal penalties for unauthorized NGO activities (article 76). Persons who form “clandestine organizations” can be punished with one year’s imprisonment and a substantial fine—in effect criminalizing many forms of informal or grassroots organizing. A person who receives donations on behalf of an NGO without ministry approval can be sentenced to six months in prison. Persons carrying out the activities of an NGO prior to its formal registration are liable to a three-month prison term. Article 11 of the law bars groups that the state determines to be “threatening national unity [or] violating public order or morals.” Articles 17 and 58 (executive statute) prohibit NGOs from receiving funds from abroad without ministry approval. Article 42 of the law allows the Ministry of Social Insurance and Affairs to dissolve an NGO at will, as well as freeze its assets and confiscate its property, without a judicial order.

[29] See Human Rights Watch press release, “Egypt’s New Chill on Rights Groups: NGOs Banned, Activist Harassed,” [online] (retrieved August 25, 2004)

[30] Sherifa Zuhur, The Mixed Impact of Feminist Struggles in Egypt during the 1990s,” Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal, vol.5, no.1 (March 2001), p. 79.

[31] See National Council for Women website (retrieved September 24, 2004)

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with NGO staff members, February 13, 2004.

[33]Nemat Guenena and Nadia Wassef, Unfulfilled Promises: Women’s Rights in Egypt (Cairo: Population Council, 1999), p. 20. 

[34] Ibid., p. 69. 

[35] Enid Hill, Mahkama! Studies in the Egyptian Legal System (London: Ithaca Press, 1979), p. 1.

[36] Non-Muslim Egyptians, such as Coptic Christians who make up roughly 10 percent of the population, have separate personal status laws governed by their own religious teachings. The focus of this report is on discriminatory access to divorce for Muslim Egyptian women since Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country. Moreover, in a preliminary review, Human Rights Watch did not find evidence of discrimination based on sex with regard to Coptic Christian divorce. Ultimately, it is extremely difficult for both Coptic Christian men and women to end their marriages. However, it is important to note that the Church’s restrictions provide no way out for many victims of domestic violence, the majority of whom are women.

[37] Shari’a is a system of Islamic law based on four main sources: the Quran (God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad); the Sunna, or actions of the Prophet, described in the Hadith; the Qiyas or process of analogical reasoning based on understanding of the principles of the Quran or the Hadith; and the Ijma, or consensus of opinion among Islamic scholars.  Egyptian personal status laws governing Muslim Egyptians rely on the four main schools of Islamic jurisprudence: Hanafi, Maliki, Hanbali, and Shafa’i. The Hanifi school is the principle source of divorce legislation. For a more detailed discussion of Islamic family law see: Abdullahi An-Na’im, Islamic Family Law in a Changing World: A Global Resource Book (New York: Zed Books, 2002); Dawoud S. El Alimi and Doreen Hinchcliffe, Islamic Marriage and Divorce Laws of the Arab World (London: Kluwer Law International, 1996); and  Dawoud S. El Alimi, The Marriage Contract in Islamic Law (London: Graham and Trotman Ltd., 1992).  

[38] Deniz Kandiyote, “Islam and Patriarchy: A Comparative Perspective,” Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991), p.  5.  

[39] Mirvat Hatem, “The Enduring Alliance of Nationalism and Patriarchy in Muslim Personal Status Laws: The Case of Egypt,” Feminist Issues, vol.6 (1986), p. 39.

[40] Marcia C. Inhorn, Infertility and Patriarchy: The Culture of Gender and Family Life in Egypt (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), p. 28.

[41] The popular reference to these laws as “Jihan’s laws”  indicated the influence the first lady was thought to have had in their passage as well as the authoritarian and personalized manner in which the laws were passed. 

[42]Amira Sonbol, Women, the Family, and Divorce Laws in Islamic History  (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996), p. 284.  Polygyny is the form of polygamy in which a man has more than one wife. Its counterpart, polyandry (where women have more than one husband) is unknown in Egypt.

[43] Decree Law No. 25 (1929) as amended by Law No. 100 (1985), article 11.  

[44] Nadje Al-Ali, Secularism, Gender and the State in the Middle East: The Egyptian Women’s Rights Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 75.

[45] See section on “The Limits of Khula” and “The Establishment of New Family Courts.”

[46] Nawal H. Ammar, “In the shadow of the Pyramids: Domestic Violence in Egypt” in Domestic Violence: Global Responses (Bicester: A. B. Academic Press, 2000), p. 34

[47]  See Fatma El-Zanaty, Enas M. Hussein, Gihan A. Shawky, Ann A. Way and Sunita Kishor, Egypt

Demographic and Health Survey 1995 (Calverton: National Population Council and Macro International Inc., 1996), pp. 206-211. 

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Law No. 58 (1937) Promulgating the Penal Code.

[51] Nawal H. Ammar, “In the shadow of the Pyramids: Domestic Violence in Egypt” in Domestic Violence: Global Responses (Bicester: A. B. Academic Press, 2000), p. 35.

[52] Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, article 8. 

[53] Ashraf Khalil,  “Egypt’s First Female Judge May Remain 'The Only',” Women’s E-News,  September 23, 2003 [online] (retrieved August 15, 2004).

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with judge, Cairo, July 1, 2004.

[57] Human Rights Watch interview with Judge `Abd al-Rahman Muhammad, chief judicial inspector, Cairo, June 25, 2004.

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