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.


In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

Updated 25 September 2020

In war-battered Syria, pay demands turn football into ‘curse’

  • $30,000 Is being demanded by players for a single season

DAMASCUS: Professional football clubs in war-battered Syria are struggling to sign new players, who are demanding raises to counter the decline in the value of their pay packets. 

Nine years into a grinding civil war, Syria’s economy is in tatters, life is increasingly expensive, and the national currency is in freefall on the black market. 

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded economic woes, with footballers forced to play in closed-door stadiums, wiping out turnstile revenues. 

“Professional football has become a curse,” said Eyad Al-Sibaei, president of Homs city’s Wathba club, runners-up in the Syrian league last season. 

“Players who once played with us for reasonable amounts are now demanding astronomical sums. They say it’s because of the devaluation” of the Syrian currency. 

The Syrian league, which has no foreign stars, was suspended for just one month for Covid-19, and it did not stop during the war except at the outset in 2011. 

Players were transferred last year for as little as 35 million Syrian pounds ($17,500 at the current black market rate), but Sibaei said players are now demanding salaries of up to 60 million pounds ($30,000) for a single season. 

“Next season, we’ll need between 400 and 500 million pounds for contracts and other expenses, knowing that the club only has around 160 million in its kitty,” he said. 

He said the club spent around 315 million last year, some of which he had to advance from his own pocket. 

Whereas the average Syrian earns between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds ($25-50) a month, an average professional football player brings home around 1.5 million pounds ($750) on a monthly basis. 

Osama Omri, a player with the Al-Wahda club which finished fifth last season, conceded football players were better off than the average Syrian. 

“The salaries are decent and the purchasing power of some players is good,” said the 28-year-old attacking midfielder with the Damascus club. 

“But it’s not enough to secure their future as a player’s lifespan on the field is short,” he said, as most players retire in their early thirties. 

No foreign player has been recruited since 2012, but today’s record devaluation is making even acquiring Syrian talent tough. 

The pound’s value against the US dollar has plummeted in the past year, from around 430 to 1,250 at the official rate, and from around 600 to 2,000 on the black market. 

The clubs Jaish and Shorta (army and police in English) are funded by the defense and interior ministries, respectively. 

But other clubs say the dual economic-coronavirus crisis has depleted their coffers, and are seeking funds elsewhere to recruit before the new season starts in a month. 

Reigning champions Tishreen, based in the coastal city of Latakia, have signed two new players with funds from sponsors and club board members. 

Ward Al-Salama, 26, who last year scored in Syria’s 1-0 win against the Philippines in World Cup 2022 qualifiers, is moving from Jaish for 50 million pounds ($25,000). 

Kamel Kawaya, 22, signed for Tishreen from Shorta for the same figure. 

Al-Wahda has renewed contracts with all its players, and even made three new signings. 

Its president Maher Al-Sayyed said he had pitched in to help cover some of next year’s ballooning budget. 

“I lent the club 180 million pounds while waiting for conditions to improve,” out of a projected budget of more than 600 million pounds, he said. 

In the northern city of Aleppo, Al-Ittihad are looking at a budget of 500 million pounds — more than twice last year’s. 

Basil Hamwi said they would be counting on fans and expatriates to help make it through the season. 

At Hutteen, another top-flight club from Latakia, coach Hussein Afash said he understood players’ demands. 

“The players are right to be asking for better-paid contracts after the devaluation of the pound as they’re now earning a fourth of what they did,” he said. 

Club president Khaled Tawil said he hoped that wealthy business tycoon Samer Foz would help cover costs. 

“We are counting on Foz, who sponsors our team,” he said.