Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

 Some apparent progress:

  • Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws to both Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority

  • But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters

CAIRO: Egyptian Copt Amal Hanna says she is determined to fight the long-standing application of Islamic inheritance laws to Christians, as recent court victories embolden Coptic women.For decades, Egyptian courts have largely applied Islamic inheritance laws — which mostly allocate a bigger share of inheritances to men than to women — to both Muslims and the country’s significant Coptic Christian minority.But Coptic Orthodox customs call for gender equality in inheritance matters.
Hanna has twice been faced with the unbalanced division of family estates.
The first was more than 20 years ago, when a court granted her brother double her share of their parents’ property.
Then, after her aunt died last year, another court awarded the entire inheritance to Hanna’s brother.
“I was dumbstruck,” she said. “It really upset me, especially as my family raised us — me and my brother — as equals.”
Hanna has appealed against the ruling.
But Christian women’s hopes were rekindled late last year after Coptic lawyer Hoda Nasrallah and her brothers were granted an equal share of their father’s inheritance.
The November ruling by a Cairo family court took into account a constitutional article allowing Christian principles to be the basis of rulings on the minority’s personal status affairs.
Nasrallah’s rare victory generated a buzz across Egypt, but it was not the first of its kind.
In 2016, a Christian woman won a legal dispute with her brother, obtaining equal inheritance.
Coptic Christians have long complained of discrimination and underrepresentation in Egypt.
They are the largest non-Muslim religious minority in the Middle East, and account for 10-15 percent of Egypt’s predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 100 million.
They have also been the target of Islamist militant attacks that have left more than 100 dead since December 2016.
Elizabeth Monier, an expert on Coptic affairs at the University of Cambridge, said applying Christian inheritance rules would meet resistance from within the legal system.
Their application “has had to overcome resistance from entrenched practices and norms, both in the judiciary and society,” she said.
Though Nasrallah had already agreed with her brothers to split the estate equally, it took her around a year to have a court rule in her favor.
She said she pursued the case in order to set a legal precedent for other Christian women.
“My fight was about ensuring that the constitution is applied,” Nasrallah said.
“Many judges are against applying Christian norms,” she added. “It can be even more challenging when the heirs are in disagreement.”
Hanna also criticized a lack of legislation forcing judges to apply Christian rules.
In building her case, she said she invoked the constitution and used the 2016 ruling as precedent.
Hanna said she feared her appeal would be rejected, but would keep on challenging the decision.
“I will even take it to the constitutional court if I have to,” she said.
Lawyers say the lack of a personal status law for Christians is partly to blame for courts’ resistance.
“Coptic males sometimes push for Islamic laws to be applied since it’s in their interest,” lawyer Atef Nazmy said. “It is vital that a personal status law for Christians be created to regulate these issues.”
Christian denominations have for years been locked in talks over a unified personal status law.
They have yet to reach agreement or present a bill to parliament.
Nazmy said issues like divorce were at the core of the divisions.
Egypt’s strict Coptic Church applies rigid rules to divorce, granting it only in cases of adultery or conversion to other faiths.
Monier said courts might also resist granting Christian women equal inheritance because they fear Muslim women would seek the same rights.
In 2018, then Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi sparked controversy across the Islamic world by proposing a bill on equal inheritance for Muslim women.
The move drew praise from secularists and women’s rights activists across the region, but stern rebuke from Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s most prestigious educational institution.
Despite the resistance, Monier remains optimistic.
“That a Coptic woman has taken her case to court and won suggests there is some progress being made,” she said.
“This is another step that is part of the journey toward greater gender equality.”

Source: Rulings spark hope for Egyptian Copts fighting Islamic estate law

Coptic Christian woman wins court case against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law

Of note:

A Coptic Christian woman has won a major legal victory against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law that greatly favors men.

Christian human rights lawyer Huda Nasrallah announced that a Cairo court ruled in her favor Monday, deciding that, as a Christian, she has a right to the same share of her father’s inheritance as her brothers.

The decision follows a nearly yearlong legal fight that has seen two other judges rule in favor of Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law that grants male relatives twice as much share of a family member’s inheritance as female relatives.

The Associated Press reported last week that when Nasrallah presented her case to a higher court she based her argument around a Coptic Christian doctrine that calls for an inheritance to be distributed equally.

On Tuesday, Nasrallah told AP that she is “thrilled” by the verdict and hopes it will serve as an encouragement to women in her country.

According to Texas Tech University law professor Gerry W. Beyer, recent cases and sentiment on the issue in Egypt did not bode well for Nasrallah. Additionally, leaders at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, regarded as the most prominent Sunni religious institution in Egypt, have rejected equal inheritance proposals.

Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C., called the decision a “significant development” in a Twitter thread, but stressed that “only time will tell about its scope.”

“On the other hand, we still don’t have the court’s reasoning,” Tadros, the author of Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic Quest for Modernity, added. “In Hoda’s case, there was no contest. Her brothers joined her in her demand. So if the court simply found no objection and hence ruled in her favor, the case’s scope would be very limited.”

Although Nasrallah’s brothers were on her side in the case, complaints have been raised in the past about how Coptic men “usurp the inheritance of women.” The Coptic Church has also been accused of overlooking the inheritance issue.

Tadros explained that if the court’s reasoning cited the constitutional clause that grants Copts “the right to resort to their own laws in governing their personal status affairs, then this is a huge thing.” However, he stressed the decision could bring both “positive and negative developments.”

“On the positive side, obviously the rights of Coptic women to equal inheritance. It would also be interesting to see what else would the courts consider as Christian personal status. Adoption?” He asked.

“On the other hand, this means that there is unlikely to be any movement on marriage and divorce issues. In those cases, while @PopeTawadros made significant practical moves on them (ones that got him curses from the old guard), these changes remain tied to him and not long term.”

Tadros assured that “any such movement should be understood as a return to the Dhimmitude framework.” He explained it is a framework in which “non-Muslim communities were allowed to govern their own internal affairs, but in which they are not equal citizens.”

Nasrallah is not the only Coptic woman to have successfully sued in the past for their right to equal inheritance. The AP reported earlier this month that Nasrallah was inspired by a 2016 Cairo court ruling in favor of a Coptic woman who fought the inheritance laws.

“It is not really about inheritance, my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds,” she told AP at the time. “I have the right to ask to be treated equally as my brothers.”

Source: Coptic Christian woman wins court case against Egypt’s Islamic inheritance law

ICYMI – Inheritance rules ‘definative’ in Islam: Al-Azhar grand sheikh – Egypt Independent

Sigh….

Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, stressed that the “inheritance rules” in Islam are clear and “definitive”, rejecting the Tunisian president’s call for equality between men and women in regards to inheritance.

Tayyeb added in a statement Sunday that, inheritance is regulated in the Quran by clear and definitive verses that leave no room for interpretation, unlike other verses that could be interpreted by scholars in more than one way,

He added that such rulings cannot be allowed, as they are not based in the study of Sharia or Islamic scriptures, pointing out that such ideas provoke the Muslim masses and could lead to destabilization in Muslim societies.

Tayyeb stated he firmly rejects political interference with the set rules of Islamic Sharia.

Al-Azhar declared its position on the equality between men and women in inheritance based on the religious responsibility it has held for more than a thousand years, and to make clear the rules of Islamic Sharia to the Islamic nation around the world, Tayyeb said in a statement on Sunday.

The sheikh went on to say that the institution guards the rules of Islam around the world regardless of geographic borders or political orientations.

Source: Inheritance rules ‘definative’ in Islam: Al-Azhar grand sheikh – Egypt Independent