Controversy ensues in Egypt over unconditional divorce law, links to former president’s wife


The unconditional divorce law’s link to former first lady Suzanne Mubarak made it the center of much controversy since the ouster of the regime. While conservative legal experts are calling for its annulment, feminist activits view the law as a necessary step towards the accomplishment of women’s independence.

The law was issued by the wife of the ousted president because she was looking for fame, said Ahmed Ouda, lawyer and member of the higher committee of the Wafd Party.

“She was, in fact, jealous of wife of late president Anwar Sadat who issued the Personal Status law,” he said.

According to Ouda, the law has had a negative impact on the Egyptian society since it led to a remarkable rise in divorce rates.

“Many families disintegrated and children are the real victim.”

Ouda questioned the argument that the law is part of Islamic law since it was once sanctioned by Prophet Mohamed (pbuh).

“That was a single incident that happened at the time of the Prophet and this does not make it a law. An exceptional occurrence is almost nonexistent.”

What proves that the law in unjust, Ouda argued, is the fact that the verdict is final and cannot be appealed.

“The law has to be canceled immediately and a new personal status law that does not violate Islamic laws needs to be drafted.”

The current Personal Status, Ouda pointed out, is full of violations like using the Gregorian calendar instead of the Islamic one.

“Marriage and divorce dates should be according to the Hijri calendar and the same should apply to personal status laws. Otherwise, they will be contradicted to the Quran.”

Writer Fatma al-Maadoul disagreed with linking the unconditional divorce law to Suzanne Mubarak and cited the example of laws issued at the time of other former or late officials and which have not been annulled till now.

“Gamal Abdel Nasser issued a law which stipulated that 50 percent of Egyptian MPs should be farmers and laborers. This law is still in effect,” she said.

The unconditional divorce law, she added, is the product of a long struggle women have been going through to gain their independence and is not a gift from one ruler or another.

“For example, in 1956 prominent feminist Dorreya Shafik went on a sit-in until Gamal Abdel Nasser issued a law that allows women to work in the judiciary.”

Enlightened Egyptian men, she said, have always been willing to grant their wives the right to divorce.

“In 1800, Egyptian intellectual and prominent scholar Refaa al-Tahtawi wrote to his wife a document that allows her to get a divorce if he remarries.”

Egyptian women, she added, are behind as far as women’s rights are concerned when compared with other Arab countries.

“Tunisian and Syrian women have become judges before their Egyptian counterparts.”

Protecting the Egyptian family, Maadoul argued, will not be through cancelling the law but rather through applying laws similar to Western ones.

“European and American women get 50 percent of their husbands’ money in case of divorce. Why don’t we apply a law like this to protect women and minimize the number of divorce cases?”

In addition to personal status laws, Maadoul argued that many steps need to be taken in order to give women more independence and empower them to shape their destiny.

“Women have to be educated and offered equal opportunities in the job market so that they are not at the mercy of men and they are able to get a divorce when they want.”

Lawyer and feminist Hanem Toubar argued that unconditional divorce is the only way a woman can be granted divorce for any reason she sees as an obstacle to continuing the marriage.

“She might want to end her marriage because the husband is miserly or impotent.”

The difference between regular and unconditional divorce, Toubar explained, is that in the second a women gives up her financial rights and returns the dowry she was paid when she got married.

“In both cases, a woman does not give up custody of her children until the age of 15 for boys and marrying age for girls.”

Judge Mohamed Saeid al-Gamal, former head of Cairo’s Court of Appeals, suggested following the Tunisian model.

“In Tunisia, it is the judge who decides after knowing the reasons that made the woman file for divorce,” he said.

Egypt’s unconditional divorce law, Gamal said, is fair for women since it gave them the right to end the marriage exactly like men.

The unconditional divorce law, known as “khula” in Arabic, came into effect in Egypt in 2011 and grants the woman the right to get a divorce in return for waiving her financial rights. In this law, a woman can get a divorce without having to obtain evidence for any sort of abuse to which she is subjected by the husband, which is not the case in regular divorce lawsuits. Unconditional divorce is also much faster.

According to a report issued by the Central Authority for Mobilization and Statistics, the year 2008 witnessed 567,000 divorce cases compared to 48,000 marriages. Experts see these numbers as catastrophic since children are in many cases rendered homeless and many of them end up as beggars or criminals.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)