Egyptian woman fights unequal inheritance laws

In this Monday, Nov. 11, 2019 photo, human rights lawyer Hoda Nasrallah poses for a portrait at her office in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 16 November 2019

Egyptian woman fights unequal inheritance laws

  • Many Coptic men prefer to benefit from the Islamic laws, Nasrallah said, using the excuse that it’s out of their hands

CAIRO: One Egyptian woman is taking on the country’s inheritance laws that mean female heirs inherit half that of men.
Since her father’s death last year, Huda Nasrallah, a Christian, has stood before three different judges to demand an equal share of the property left to her two brothers by their father. Yet courts have twice issued rulings against her, basing them on inheritance laws that favor male heirs.
Nasrallah, a 40-year-old Christian human rights lawyer, is now challenging the rulings in a higher court. A final verdict is expected to be handed down later this month. She has formulated her case around Christian doctrine which dictates that heirs, regardless of their sex, receive equal shares.
“It is not really about inheritance, my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she said. “I have the right to ask to be treated equally as my brothers.”
Calls for equal inheritance rights began to reverberate across the Arab world after the Tunisian government had proposed a bill to this effect last year. Muslim feminists hailed the bill.
Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest religious institution in the Muslim world, vehemently dismissed the proposal as contradictory to Islamic law and destabilizing to Muslim societies. But there is hope that Tunisia could have broken the taboo on the topic for the region. Nasrallah belongs to Egypt’s estimated 10 million Coptic Christians.

Christians face restrictions in inter-religious marriages and church building, and are banned from proselytizing to Muslims.
Egypt’s legal system grants the Coptic church full authority over personal status matters of Copts, namely marriage and divorce. But the church does not have the same powers over its followers’ inheritance rights.
One of the oldest Christian communities in the world, the Egyptian Coptic church is also deeply conservative on social matters, banning divorce except in cases of adultery or conversion to Islam.
Nasrallah says she is making her case on religious grounds because she believes the court is more likely to respect existing structures within the society. She says she is trying to capitalize on a rare Christian doctrine that respects gender equality.
Karima Kamal, a Coptic female columnist at the privately-owned Al-Masry Al-Youm daily, says that Nasrallah’s case highlights the double discrimination that Coptic women can face in a society where religion is printed on government-issued identification cards.

FASTFACT

Calls for equal inheritance rights began to reverberate across the Arab world after the Tunisian government had proposed a bill to this effect last year.

“You should not implement the rules of one faith on people of another faith,” she says.
In early December 2018, Nasrallah’s father, a former state clerk, died, leaving behind a four-story apartment building in a Cairo low-income neighborhood and a bank deposit. When she and her brothers filed their request for inheritance at a local court, Nasrallah invoked a church-sanctioned Coptic bylaw that calls for equal distribution of inheritance. She says she was encouraged by a 2016 ruling that a Cairo court handed down in favor of a Coptic woman who challenged Islamic inheritance laws.
Nasrallah’s brothers also testified that they would like their father’s inheritance to be divided fairly between them, but the court has twice ignored their testimony.
Many Coptic men prefer to benefit from the Islamic laws, Nasrallah said, using the excuse that it’s out of their hands.
“The issue of inheritance goes beyond religious rules. It has to do with the nature of the society we are living in and Egypt’s misogynistic judicial system,” said Hind Ahmed Zaki, a political science assistant professor with Connecticut University.
She says the state fears that if they grant equal property rights to Christian women, Muslim women will soon ask for the same.
Girgis Bebawy, a Coptic lawyer, has represented dozens of Copts in similar cases over the last two years, though he has yet to win a single one. He’s hoping that the latest case, which is currently before Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, could end differently.
“It’s religious intolerance,” he says.
Many Coptic families decide to settle inheritance matters outside the legal system, but Nasrallah says that as a lawyer, she hopes her case could set a precedent for others.
“If I didn’t take it to court, who would?” she said.


US considering troop boost to counter Iran

Updated 23 min 7 sec ago

US considering troop boost to counter Iran

  • A source has said Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East
  • Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions

WASHINGTON: The United States said Thursday it was considering deploying fresh forces to counter Iran, with an official saying some 5,000 to 7,000 troops could head to the region.
Testifying before Congress, John Rood, the under secretary of defense for policy, said the United States was “observing Iran’s behavior with concern.”
“We’re continuing to look at that threat picture and have the ability to dynamically adjust our force posture,” Rood told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
A US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Defense Secretary Mark Esper was considering plans to move between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East.
The official did not confirm where the troops would be sent, or in what timeframe, but said that the deployment would be due to frustrations with Iranian-linked groups’ attacks on US assets.
Rood, under questioning, denied a report by The Wall Street Journal the United States was considering sending 14,000 more troops — equivalent to the number sent over the past six months.
Esper also denied the 14,000 figure in a phone call with Senator Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the committee, Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said.
US President Donald Trump later tweeted that: “The story today that we are sending 12,000 troops to Saudi Arabia is false or, to put it more accurately, Fake News!“
It was not immediately clear which report the president was referring to.
Tensions have risen sharply with Iran since Trump last year pulled out of a denuclearization pact and imposed sweeping sanctions, including trying to block all its oil exports.
In September, the United States said Iran was responsible for attacks on the major Abqaiq oil processing center in Saudi Arabia, a close US ally and Iran’s regional rival.
Riyadh then asked Washington for reinforcements, receiving two fighter squadrons, additional missile defense batteries, and bringing the number of US troops stationed in the Kingdom to about 3,000.
The United States has also been alarmed by an uptick in attacks on bases in Iraq, where major demonstrations triggered by economic discontent have also targeted Iran’s clerical regime and its overwhelming influence in its Shiite-majority neighbor.
“We’re lucky no one has been killed. There is a spike in rocket attacks,” another US official said.
“It’s clearly not Daesh. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s the right range,” the official said, contrasting Iranian capabilities with those of the extremist Daesh group.
Among the incidents, five rockets hit the Al-Asad Air Base on Tuesday, just four days after US Vice President Mike Pence visited US troops there.
Iran denied involvement in the September attack in Saudi Arabia, which was claimed by Tehran-backed Houthi militia.
The tensions come as Iran itself has faced major protests set off by a sharp hike in gas prices.