Boring Law Stuff Part I – Women’s rights under Egyptian law

Posted on August 9, 2007


I thought I’d just write a little something about discrimination against women under Egyptian law. Sometimes I take an interest in my career.

Article 8 of the Egyptian constitution states: “The State undertakes to provide equality of opportunity for all citizens”. A tough requirement – it’s left over socialist stuff. Luckily the constitution goes by the wayside more often than not. Also, I should state at the outset that Egypt applies shariah quite narrowly and, it is held by mainstream scholars, incorrectly. For example, shariah does not attempt equality between men and women in the area of family law; few legal systems have succeeded in doing so. The man is heavily disadvantaged, if shariah were to be correctly applied, notwithstanding appearances. However, not all of the rights and obligations of both the husband and wife have made their way into Egyptian law, because of the innate sexism of humanity, I suppose.


The husband is under legal obligation to pay a bride-price, to pay for the marital home and furnish it, and to pay a divorce settlement. The husband does have the right to unilaterally divorce his wife, provided he pays a divorce settlement agreed upon at the time of marriage and alimony, as well as any support or compensatory payments decreed by the courts according to the couple’s particular circumstances and the causes of their divorce, expenses, length of marriage, and the like.

A woman can obtain a divorce (from an unwilling husband) in three ways:

1. By stipulating in the marriage contract that she can terminate the marriage unilaterally;

2. By the legal method of kholeh (khl3 – casting off), through an application to the court provided she forfeits all financial rights;

3. By regular court-order divorce granted on rather broad grounds.

Obviously this sounds good, but the Egyptian court system is hopelessly slow and corrupt and it’s basically very hard to obtain a divorce in the last case, but apparently if it is granted spousal support is generally fair.


Granted to the mother until a male child turns ten and a female child turns twelve. A judge may extend this period to fifteen years of age for a boy and until marriage for a girl. After these ages custody is granted to the father.
Judges can vary this, and grant joint custody.
A father is granted legal trusteeship over the child (act on his or her behalf regarding finances, for example), but he may bequeath it to any other person.

Criminal law

Adultery is a crime in this country. According to the criminal code, an adulteress will receive a sentence not exceeding two years, while an adulterer will receive a sentence not exceeding six months. Moreover, in order to be convicted of adultery, a man must have committed it in the marital home.
If a husband discovers his wife in the act of being unfaithful and kills her in a rage, he will be sentenced to a maximum of three years, but if a wife kills her unfaithful husband she will be sentences to fifteen years to life imprisonment. A husband may also stay a judgment against his adulterous wife, effectively pardoning her, but a wife may not do so for a husband convicted of adultery.
The law also punishes all those who engage in habitual debauchery and prostitution; yet only women are ever convicted of this crime, and sentenced to periods from three months to three ears, as well as fined. Those who solicit prostitutes are never charged (it is assumed they are not habitual debauchees) and are in fact witnesses.


Social Security

In 2003 a constitutional court overturned a law stating that widower is not entitled to his late wife’s pension, depriving her family of payments she laboured her entire life to make for their benefit.


In 2005 a law was issued granting tax exemptions to male and female breadwinners alike; before that, only male breadwinners were entitled to tax exemptions for family expenditures.

Foreign Travel

In 2001 a court overturned a Prime Ministerial Decree ruling that a husband’s approval was necessary to issue his wife a passport.

To be continued, if there is interest. Sleepy now.

Source: M. Zulficar’s Report to the Committee for the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Posted in: Egypt, gender, law