In Selected Opinion

By Youssef Sidhom – Watani

I begin the 2017 series of ‘Problems on hold’ with an issue I have repeatedly broached and vowed ever to staunchly defend. By this I mean the issue of equal inheritance shares for men and women. I call for a remedy to the injustice that falls on Egyptian women who, according to the Egyptian law based on Islamic sharia, get only half the shares of men in inheritance.

I have long aspired to establish constitutional equality between men and women regarding their inheritance shares. In this context, I called upon the Coptic Orthodox Church to include the inheritance issue in the Family Bylaws for Christians, which the Church drafted in accordance with the Constitution that stipulates in its third article that Christians are entitled to a family law that accords with their doctrine. In this I hoped to achieve equality in inheritance between Coptic women and men, with a view that with time all Egyptian women would also get to be equal to men in inheritance.

As I defended and delved into the issue of gender equality in inheritance, I came upon a legacy of historical incidents and legislation that upheld that cause in case of Christians. Before I venture upon a recent court ruling in that respect, I would like to refer to an incident that took place at the hands of Pope Kyrillos IV who was Coptic Orthodox Patriarch from 1854 to 1861. Pope Kyrillos IV was famous as a reformer, and had moreover very strong ties with all other Church leaders in Egypt, to the point that the then Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Egypt, Pope Kallinikos, entrusted him to care for the Greek Orthodox congregation when he had to go on a visit to Greece. Basing on these strong ties, Khedive Said summoned Pope Kyrillos to act as arbitrator between two Catholic families who were on both ends of a dispute regarding their women’s inheritance shares, and whether they should be equal to or half that of the men. Pope Kyrillos addressed the parties involved and asked them: “When a woman does good, does God reward her or not?” To which they answered: “Of course He does”. He then asked: “Does God cut down on her reward since she is a woman?” Their answer was: “Surely not, she gets her full reward”. Pope Kyrillos then said that if God grants women their full reward, shouldn’t faithful believers follow His example and obey His orders? The parties of the dispute accepted the Pope’s reasoning and gave their sisters their full inheritance rights.

Last November, the Cairo Court of Appeals issued a ruling in a case where a Coptic woman contested a lower court ruling that granted her brother double her share in an inheritance left them by an older sister. I refrain from mentioning the names of the parties involved since I have no permission to do so.

The ruling of the Court of Appeals declared that the plaintiff was not content with the lower court ruling, thus lawfully contested it. She also contested the constitutionality of the Family Law’s Article 1 of Law (25) of year 1944, and the last paragraph of Article 3 of Law (1) of year 2000, for violating Article 3 of the current Egyptian Constitution. The ruling said the plaintiff thus called for the annulment of the ruling by the lower court, and demanded equal division of inheritance between men and women according to the 2014 Constitution and the principles of Christian doctrines.

“Since the inheritors of the deceased are her brother (…) and her sister (…), therefore their inheritance shares should be equal according to Article 247 of the Coptic Orthodox Bylaws [which will be replaced by the new Christian Family Bylaws already drafted but not so far put before parliament]. According to their [Christian] doctrine, there is no difference on that score between men and women. The Court rules it accepts the appeal in form and in substance, and amends the ruling so as to entitle the inheritors to equal shares.”

With relief I hail this ruling that did justice to a Coptic woman. I still aspire for the day when all Egyptian women get to enjoy the same equality in inheritance shares.




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