Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Egypt's Personal Status Code in the Post-Mubarak Era

It is well known that many campaigns to implement Islamic personal status law codes (or, family law codes) in the modern Middle East were characterized by alliances between (feminist) activists and authoritarian governments. As Frances Hasso points out in Consuming Desires: Family Crisis and the State in the Middle East (2011), which focuses on Egypt and the United Arab Emirates,

the most paradoxical aspect of the legal and procedural personal status changes […] is that most social sectors take expansion of authoritarian state control over the family for granted and even encourage the logic of efficient management and regulation of these relationships of exchange.
Members of the National Council for Women, headed by Suzanne Mubarak (2010) (via Al-Ahram Weekly).

She elaborates:

In the MENA region, women come to rely on undemocratic or authoritarian states for their extractive, redistributive, and policing authority over husbands and fathers. Indeed, the endurance of authoritarian MENA states may uniquely depend on this calculus (Hasso 2011, 133).

In a recent article, Hoda Elsadda complicates the relationship between activists and authoritarian governments. She argues that many women’s rights campaigns in Egypt did not dovetail with government policy or serve the interests of the Mubarak regime. At the same time, she emphasizes the challenges facing activists in post-Mubarak Egypt, namely the association of women’s rights with Suzanne Mubarak.

"One of the key obstacles that women’s rights activists will face in the months and years to come," she writes, "is a prevalent public perception that associates women’s rights activists and their activities with the ex-First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, and her entourage—that is, with corrupt regime politics in collusion with imperialist agendas."

While personal status laws portray and sell themselves as modernizing and emancipating women, Egypt's personal status law reforms are currently under debate. Mohamed al-Omda recently suggested altering the khulʿ provision (Law No. 1 of 2000), which currently permits women to seek divorces without their husbands' permission. As Sarah Mourad points out, child custody laws are also being debated:

amendments to several articles of Egypt’s Personal Status Law that were made in last March’s constitutional amendments are under debate as well. The changes made to the Custody Law 25 of 1929 (amended by Law 4 of 2005) gave divorced mothers the right to keep their children until the age of 15, instead of 10 for a son and 12 for a daughter. Changes also allow fathers to have care of their sons/daughters for 48 hours a week instead of only three hours a week.


The Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University: Student Blog said...

Great post Isaac. Consider that in Tunisia the former first lady also sought to appropriate the feminist agende in a conspicuous act designed to portray her as a leader (with, many suspected, aspirations for the highest office). but feminism and women's rights in Tunisia is not associated/tainted with a detested former regime but with the Bourguiba secular era. even though many Tunisian feminists implicitly (if not explicitly) aligned with the Ben Ali regime for fear of Islamists.

the difference with Egypt is that women's right preceded the dethroned regime and have been diffused into the national landscape - a given now - instead in Egypt where the women lag behind Tunisia's. in the case of the latter, these rights are not being contested (not even by al Nahda) but in Egypt since the feminist agenda is still freshly seen as a regime agenda, why should it not be contested?

it may be simplistic but it may be a question of timing.

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing..