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New Draft Personal Status Law Sparks Outrage in Egypt

February 27, 2021

A draft Personal Status Law, reportedly issued by the Egyptian Cabinet, was published by local media on February 23 and has since sparked widespread controversy and backlash.

The draft law was referred to the parliament today to a joint committee of constitutional and legislative affairs, Ahram reports, which will be followed by further discussions and amendments.

The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights released a press release rejecting the draft personal status law, stating that it does not match “current progressive times”, and that it’s based on a regressive and strict jurisprudential school.

“In Egypt, we have female ministers in all fields, yet under this law, they wouldn’t even have the right to contract their marriage, and would be prevented by any man from traveling even if it’s a work requirement,” Nehad Aboul Komsan, chairwoman of ECWR, explained in a video.

Aboul Komsan added that in Egypt, 18.1% of women are heads of households, which implies that the law does not reflect the reality of Egyptian households where many women are now the main contributors to the family.

The release states that the proposed draft contains many gaps:

1. There is a lack of recognition of the legal status and capacity of women, as she is deprived of signing her own contract of marriage and only a male guardian is able to sign the contract.

2. The law also fails to recognize the right of women to choose their spouse, and upholds the ability of any male member in the family to annul her marriage contract for any reason he specifies.

3. Any male member in the family can prevent a woman from traveling regardless of work or travel arrangements

4. The father takes priority over the mother and grandmothers in the family in child custody

5. A mother cannot register the birth of her child, obtain a passport or an identity card for their child, or choose the type of education the child will pursue

The statement adds that the draft law does not stipulate any solutions to family court issues, particularly cases of alimony that can go on for years with no protection specified for the child, nor does it tackle the issue of polygamy which has proven to break many families.


Currently, Egypt’s personal status law stipulates that the right of child custody is given as a priority to the mother and the female relatives from the mother’s side, followed by the father himself and male relatives. The custodial parent (mother) is also the child’s guardian in educational matters, according to the child’s law, Law 12 of 1996, and its amendments.

Before 1920, women were not given the opportunity to initiate a divorce. Since then, the Egyptian legislature has tried to restore the balance between man and woman. Law No 100 of 1985 allowed a divorced women for the first time to get a financial compensation (mut’a), to remain inside their marital home until the end of children custody, and also required that the first wife be informed officially of the new marriage of her husband.

In 2000, there was the introduction of khula’ law, which gave women access to non-consensual divorce as well as a new law allowing women to apply for a passport and travel without spousal consent.

Today, the majority of divorce cases are through khula’, which is form of divorce in Islamic law initiated by women and was introduced in 2000. Rasha Dewer, a researcher at Cairo University, cited a study in her research ‘Engendering Poverty and Egyptian Personal Status Law’ that showed khula’ representing 67.6 percent of the divorce cases in 2015.

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