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.


GCC urges UN to extend Iran arms embargo 

The GCC — flag pictured — i comprised of six Arab Gulf nations: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. (File/AP)
Updated 09 August 2020

GCC urges UN to extend Iran arms embargo 

  • Letter from head of GCC says an extension is imperative to “ensure and preserve peace” in the Middle East.

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has asked the UN to extend an international arms embargo on Iran.

A letter sent by the GCC’s secretary general, Nayef Al-Hajraf, to the Security Council cites Tehran’s support for terrorism and its hostile actions against neighbouring countries as reasons to back an extension.

The embargo prevents the movement of conventional weaponry in and out of Iran, and is set to expire on Oct. 18 as part of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.

The agreement with international powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for the regime curtailing its nuclear program.

In the letter, Al-Hajraf, points out that, in violation of the deal, Iran has “continued to proliferate conventional weapons and armed terrorist and sectarian organizations and movements throughout the region.”

It also said Tehran “has not desisted from armed interventions in neighboring countries, directly and through organizations and movements armed and trained by Iran.”

The embargo’s restrictions, the letter states, are “imperative to ensure and preserve peace and stability in this region.”

The US has also been pushing heavily for an extension to the arms embargo, warning that lifting it could have dire consequences.

In June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned that, if the embargo is terminated, “Iran will be able to purchase advanced weapons systems” and would “become an arms dealer of choice for terrorists and rogue regimes all throughout the world.”

Pompeo added: “This is unacceptable.”

Russia and China, two of the permanent five members of the UN’s Security Council with veto power, want the arms embargo to lift as scheduled on Oct. 18.

Should that happen, the US has warned that it could introduce “snap back” sanctions built into the original 2015 deal, unilaterally restoring all UN sanctions on Tehran.