Egypt’s proposed marriage law can usher in more advances for women’s rights

Heba Yosry
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The Egyptian parliament is currently discussing a new piece of legislation. The suggested law will oblige any husband who plans to take multiple wives to inform the court of his decision. The court will then summon his wife, or wives, to question whether they agree to be co-spouses and notify the new bride of the man’s previous marriages. The court will accordingly ensure that the husband provides for the financial needs of his first wife and their children. The new law is a progressive step that aims to balance the power dynamics once tipped in the husband’s direction.

The law has already caused uproar. Supporters believe legislation is necessary to ensure the rights of the first wife and her children, who are often ignored after the husband starts a new family. Detractors tried to claim that this proposition is un-Islamic because it reduces the number of husbands who take multiple wives. Their claim is entirely unfounded for numerous reasons.


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Firstly, the law doesn’t ban men from taking several wives, which could be incongruent with Islamic law. The law merely informs women of the man’s status and intentions in this relationship: information that will impact those women’s lives.

I remember before getting married, I wanted to add a stipulation that would prevent my husband from taking another wife. I was informed that this could not be written in a marriage contract since it would be against Islamic law. The official who was writing the contract instead suggested that my husband would not be able to take a second wife except if he could provide my written consent, and we agreed. This incident exhibits the importance of the first wife’s acceptance. The initial stance of Islam isn’t merely to indulge in the husband’s whims to take multiple wives. It is instead to safeguard the family and ensure its prosperity.

Detractors of the proposed law claim the proposition is un-Islamic because it reduces the number of husbands who take multiple wives. (Stock image)
Detractors of the proposed law claim the proposition is un-Islamic because it reduces the number of husbands who take multiple wives. (Stock image)

Second, historically in the Arab peninsula and other areas, polygamy was practiced widely. Accordingly, one could claim that Islam aimed to limit polygamy rather than spread it as it is commonly thought. It did it by limiting the number of wives and ensuring each wife’s rights.

The Quran stipulates that a husband who is married to more than one woman should be just to them, even if he yearns for one more than the others. It also cautions against injustice and recommends that men who cannot treat their wives fairly should marry only one.

One could further claim that it should carry the initial impetus of fairness and equality toward women. This new proposed law will hopefully mend the wounds of women who woke up to find their husbands married to new wives. These women were informed of the marriage after it happened.

In many cases, these women had no legal or social support that could allow them to rebel against this enforced situation. In some cases, not accepting this new status quo might result in being banished out of the house to make room for the new wife. It would feel like being betrayed after dedicating your life to your family, only to feel that you’ve been replaced with someone else.

Naturally, not all second marriages are caused by men’s desire for a younger wife, and not all first wives are dedicated to their families. However, if it is passed, the new law will ensure the acceptance of women and the welfare of children who are involved.

A recent study revealed that parental divorce had a more negative impact on children’s longevity than a parent’s death. The findings of this study allude to the level of emotional and psychological stress children endure during their parents’ divorce that could have detrimental effects on their lives. Children with divorced parents are sometimes subjected to cruel living conditions due to not having a stable household or lack of financial support. They also don’t get the same level of empathy as bereaved children.

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