|newswire article||commentary||united states||02.Jun.2011 16:36|
|gender & sexuality | human & civil rights|
|Egypt’s Islamic family law of divorce is established in five legislations: (1) the law of 1920; (2) the law of 1929; the law of 1979; (4) the law of 1985; and (5) the law of 2000.The Divorce Laws of 1920 & 1929
The 1920 law deals with divorce and financial support under which a woman might be eligible to seek a divorce from her husband, The law restricted woman’s right to divorce to lack of husband’s economic support, such as desertion, disappearance, and imprisonment. Article 1 of the Law of 1920 provides that maintenance was a cumulative debt owed by the husband to his wife, it starts from the first time the husband failed to support his wife. Article 2 decreed the wife’s maintenance debt should be computed from the date of her divorce. Articles 4 and 5 included the husband’s failure to provide maintenance as sufficient grounds for divorce.The law of 1920 provided that if the husband is absent or imprisoned and if he does not own a property from which the wife’s maintenance can be extracted, the wife is then entitled to a divorce on the grounds of non-support. And, if the husband lives in a distant place, or his location is unknown, the wife is granted a divorce at once. Article 6 provides the husband a further period to pay the maintenance, the waiting period of the menstrual cycle (iddah). A divorce obtained from the religious court in nonsupport cases is irrevocable, however, payment of the current maintenance is a sign of good will and sufficient to reverse the divorce.The 1920 law provides that a wife may seek judicial divorce if the husband suffered from an irreversible illness such as madness, leprosy, or impotence, whether or not the illness was developed before or after the marriage. According to the law of 1920, women were not allowed to divorce if the husband claims poverty. In all these cases, women had to file for divorce in front of a male judge. At the same time, the law allowed men to exercise their divorce according to Islamic sharia by uttering the formula of divorce anywhere they choose.The law of 1929 granted women right to seek judicial divorce according to Maliki School of jurisprudence in case the husband was absent for an extended period of time. This particular cause for divorce is not included in the Hanafi doctrine. According to the Maliki School, the judge may issue a divorce decree when the husband abandons his wife for more than one year without the knowledge of his wife.The law of 1929 stipulates that a woman whose husband had been sentenced to more than three years may seek divorce after a separation of at least one year. This complies with the Maliki doctrine.
In view of the maltreatment inflicted by men on their wives, the Egyptian government deemed it necessary to adopt the doctrines of the Maliki School of jurisprudence to make it easy for women to get out of their dysfunctional marriages associated with maltreatment and sufferings, a doctrine which is absent from the Hanafi School. The 1929 legislation allowed judges dealing with Islamic divorce to refer to Maliki School instead of Hanafi in order to grant a woman the right to divorce her husband in case of maltreatment.
Furthermore, the Law of 1929 grants the wife the right to seek judicial divorce in case the husband suffers from serious and incurable disease, if such a cause makes life harmful to women.
Article 6 of the law decreed that where a wife’s allegation of maltreatment detrimental to the continuation of marital relationship is substantiated and reconciliation becomes impossible, the judge (qadi) shall grant the wife an irrevocable divorce. To prove the harm and bad treatment inflicted by the husband, the wife must present two witnesses, whose testimonies will be subject to the unconstrained assessment of the judge who evaluates the evidence.
If the judge rejects the wife’s petition for divorce, twice, the law mandates that he appoints two arbitrators for the couple in accordance with the Quran injunction: “And if you fear a breach between the two, then send forth an arbiter, one from his family, another from hers” (Q. 4:35). Article 7 stipulates that if this is not possible, men acquainted with the circumstances of the case should be appointed. These men should conduct thorough investigation of the causes for the married couple and submit recommendations to the court for reconciliation if that becomes possible.
Article 10 provides that should the arbitrators indicate a deadlock, the judge is to order them to make a new attempt. If the new attempt fails, then other arbitrators are to be appointed. Article 11 stipulates that the final judgment of divorce is made after the newer attempts were fruitless and the prospect for reconciliation reached a deadlock.
The Divorce Laws of 1979 and 1985
In 1985, the Decree-Law No.44/1979 was declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it was passed by presidential decree and presented to the Egyptian Assembly as a done-deal. Later in the same year the Law No. 100/1985 was passed again with some revisions. It states that polygamy may be considered a possible source of harm, according to which a woman may seek judicial divorce. Under such circumstances, the wife presents the court with evidence showing the harm. The judge evaluates the evidence and issues his ruling. The law of 1985 does not prohibit the husband from having a polygamous marriage; it only offers a remedy to the first wife who would can seek divorce for damage resulting from her husband’s second marriage. A wife seeking divorce on this ground has to bring two witnesses to testify for the damage incurred. Such a procedure is lengthy and costly for the wife.
Although the law allows women to divorce for polygamy, in many instances, judges refuse to apply this provision, which they consider to be contrary to Islamic sharia and to the Constitution of Egypt. Article 2 of the Constitution of 1980 affirms that Islamic sharia is “The main source of legislation”. Accordingly, judges who opposed the new provisions in the divorce law brought up the “unconstitutionality” issue.
The Law of 2000
As a compensation for the husband, she has to forfeit her maintenance (nafaqah), her compensation of “mahr” and agrees to return to him the amount of “mahr” that he paid her at the marriage and she must renounce the amount of the “deferred mahr” (mu’akhar). The law of 2000 made it possible for a wife to get a “no fault divorce” from the judge after a lengthy process of reconciliation. For more on the khul’ divorce in Egypt, see our piece on this topic titled: “The Khul’ Divorce in Egypt”.
Anti-Women Sentiments in the Egyptian Law
Furthermore, Muslim women seeking divorce in Egypt are denied equal access; they are at a distinct disadvantage for no reason other than they are women. Muslim women seeking divorce in Egypt must resort to the notoriously backlogged, inefficient court system and face procedural and evidentiary hurdles that are inherently discriminatory and may take several years to get a divorce.
When men initiate divorce, they do not have to go through reconciliation process. In fact a husband can divorce his wife in as little as one hour with the local marriage registrar. The wife does not have to be informed.
In all other court cases in Egypt, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man. Therefore a woman living with a violent husband would need testimonies from two men, four women, or one man and two women to prove her case.
Recognition of Egyptian Divorce in USA
Egyptian women citizens of the U.S. must obtain divorce decrees from Egypt as proof of divorce. The documents must be authenticated by the relevant authorities in Egypt and the U.S. This is important to women who could not remarry without presenting proof that they are free to remarry. Egyptian Muslim women who remarry without obtaining a divorce decree from Egypt, their second marriage may be considered illegal. In Islamic countries, women who remarry without divorce documents, may be labeled as adulterous, and in some countries like Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan may be subject to the death penalty by stoning under strict interpretations of Islamic sharia.
DISCLAIMER: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East Background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce, and custody of children. Professor of Middle East Constitutional Law and Islamic law. Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in U.S. Courts and Canada. Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association. Former Associate Member of the New York Bar Association and the American Bar Association.
Professor Sawma’s experience in Islamic and Middle East laws comes from his study and practice of law in the Middle East. Islamic family law is part of the curriculum at the Lebanese University School of Law from which he graduated with honor.
Prof. Sawma lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State and universities in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. He wrote affidavits in connection with Islamic divorce to immigration authorities, Federal Courts and State Family Courts throughout the United States. Travelled extensively to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf region and other countries in the Middle East, and wrote numerous articles on Islamic divorce in USA and abroad. He speaks, reads and writes Arabic, French, English, and few other languages spoken in the Middle East.
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Taught Islamic Finance at the University of Liverpool and lectured on Islamic Sharia at Fairleigh Dickinson University: http://view.fdu.edu/default.aspx?id=7899 and abroad.
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