Investigations continue into the murder of sisters Fatima and Rasha, after they were detained and tortured at the hands of their brothers in their family home to force them to give up their share of their parents' inheritance. The al-Saff Prosecution Office of the Giza Governorate (southwest of the Egyptian capital) is carrying out the investigation, after the two brothers claimed that they killed their sisters by strangling them “for the sake of the family’s honor”.
The story of the two sisters did not come as a shock or even arouse widespread interest in the community due to its excessive recurrence in Egyptian society. The pretext of "honor" is widely used to escape severe penalties in cases of murder and the torture of women at the hands of their families and husbands, as judges use their discretionary powers to reduce sentences to a minimum in sympathy with the killers if they claim that their motive for killing or torture had been out of fear for the family’s honor. These crimes are now customarily established as "honor killings", whose perpetrators enjoy societal understanding and judicial sympathy.
The fate of the two sisters is similar to what happened to a young woman named Rawan. She was detained by her husband, who has a criminal record, inside his apartment in the Shubra al-Kheima neighborhood for a long period of time, during which he made her experience all forms and colors of torment, and even questioned her honor, for refusing to give up her apartment, which she obtained from her father as inheritance. He shaved her hair, extinguished cigarettes on her body, as well as heated a knife over open flames and tortured her with it, before killing her last June by stabbing her numerous times. He then justified his crime by saying he did it to avenge his honor, hoping for a reduced sentence after which he would be released to obtain her inheritance.
The two sisters' murder did not come as a shock or even arouse widespread interest due to its excessive recurrence in Egyptian society. "Honor" is widely used to escape severe penalties in cases of the murder of women at the hands of families and husbands
In recent years, Egyptian society has witnessed repeated crimes against women related to seizing their inheritance, ranging from murder to attempted murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, and violence, at a time when many are still deprived of their right to inheritance, due to unjust customs and traditions that place them at the mercy of men's conventions and norms.
Kidnapping and attempted murder
According to the “Gender Based Violence Crimes Against Women and Girls Observatory” report issued by EDRAAK Foundation for Development and Equality (EFDE), during the first half of 2022, seven girls and women were killed by one or more members of their families, as punishment for their insistence to claim their legitimate inheritance, or out of the desire of the perpetrators to steal their inheritance after refusing to hand it over to the them.
One incident detailed the attempted murder of a woman by a member of her family, because of his desire to seize her inheritance, while 10 cases entailed girls and women being beaten by a member of their families to force them to give up their inheritance. In addition, 10 girls/women were killed after they were stabbed, strangled, and their throats were slit under the label of suspicion and honor killing, even though they were motivated by revenge or a desire to seize their inheritance. With this claim, the killer guarantees the least possible legal punishment or in some cases, might even be declared innocent and walks free.
“A criminal who kills to seize the victim's inheritance believes he'll get away with it, because the family helps cover it up and it's in a society that accepts murder under the pretext of honor” – Dr. Fathi Kenawy, Professor of Crime Detection at NCSCR
During 2021, the observatory recorded 12 cases of the murder of Egyptian girls and women by a member of their family for refusing to give up their inheritance, including one case that the perpetrator claimed to have killed her because of her ‘bad behavior’, bringing the honor of the victim into question, but it soon became clear that the reason for the murder was her refusal to give up her inheritance.
During the same year, there were three cases of the attempted murder of girls and women by a family member for refusing to give up their inheritance, and seven cases of severe beatings of girls and women at the hands of a family member for refusing to give up their inheritance.
The majority of victims are women
While speaking to Raseef22, Dr. Adel Amer, professor of public law and head of the Egyptian Center for Political, Economic and Legal Studies, reveals that the rate of murders and violence between members of the same family over inheritance is increasing annually. The rate was at about 9,600 crimes annually in 2017, but it has now risen to 12,840 crimes. He stresses that the majority of the victims are women, and most of these crimes occur in Upper Egypt and the Egyptian countryside and occur at a lesser rate in Lower Egypt and in the cities, despite the amendment of the inheritance law, and the addition of the crime against handing over the inheritance, "but victims rarely resort to the law in Upper Egypt and in Bedouin tribes for fear of stigma and shame."
Dr. Amer stresses that honor killings "are well established in Egyptian society, but recently they have been taken as a cover for murders over inheritance, and this is based on the advice of the lawyers of defendants to reduce their sentence. Lawyers regularly advise the perpetrators to fabricate alleged honor crimes attributed to the victims, but the investigations and the prosecution end up revealing the truth."
Regarding the cases of kidnapping by the relative of a victim for the purpose of seizing her inheritance or forcing her to renounce, Dr. Amer confirms that the Egyptian Penal Code criminalizes kidnapping without exception, even if it is done at the hands of the mother, father, brothers and relatives. If it is proven that he had forcibly kidnapped the victim, it punishes the kidnapper, and if the reason is inheritance, his punishment is doubled and may reach maximum imprisonment.
During the past year, society has been shaken by several heinous crimes against women at the hands of their first or second-degree relatives, ranging from kidnapping to murder and attempted murder in order to seize their inheritance
The law professor points out that cases to end issues of dispute between inheritors take years in the Egyptian courts, which look into about 350,000 cases of inheritance disputes every year, adding that Article 49 of Law No. 77 of 1943, amended by Law No. 219 of 2017, stresses that anyone who deliberately refrains from handing over the legitimate share of the inheritance to an inheritor shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of no less than six months, and a fine of no less than 20 thousand Egyptian pounds, and not exceeding one 100 thousand pounds, or one of these two penalties. These penalties apply to those who deliberately refrain from handing over the inheritance, or deliberately withhold and refrain from handing over the inheritance deed, pointing out that this law has been applied in Egypt for four years, knowing that in this particular crime, there is room for reconciliation. He also points to the need to address the society in Upper Egypt of the need to apply an electronic system to divide inheritance estates in Egypt, so that each rightful owner obtains his/her legitimate right under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice.
A long history
During the past year, society has been shaken by several heinous crimes against women at the hands of their first or second-degree relatives, ranging from kidnapping to murder and attempted murder in order to seize their inheritance, the latest of which was the murder of a woman in her fifties and her son inside their home last December by her other son out of greed for the inheritance.
In February 2022, a husband was arrested after he had kept his wife locked in a room for four years, claimed she had died, and made a fake death certificate for her to seize her inheritance.
Last march in Beheira, a worker killed his mother, decapitated her head from her body, and threw her into a sewage drain after stripping her of her clothes due to a conflict over the inheritance.
In April, a young man stabbed his female cousin 10 times while preparing breakfast, over previous disputes over inheritance.
In May, an unemployed man threw a caustic, acidic substance on his mother, sister, sister-in-law, and her two daughters over inheritance.
Also in June 2022, a father forcibly abducted his 22-year-old daughter from her grandparents' home, beat her and prevented her from taking her university exams, in order to seize her share of the inheritance that her grandfather had given her.
Killers cannot inherit under both Sharia and law
Murder is the first constraint that blocks a person from obtaining their inheritance in Egyptian law, whether the murderer is a main perpetrator, accomplice, or instigator of murder, or has made a false testimony that led to the execution of the inheritor, or has participated in the crime of murder in any way or form.
But this provision is not enough to deter these crimes, as Dr. Nabil Medhat Salem, a professor of criminal law at the Faculty of Law at Ain Shams University, comments, telling Raseef22 that committing the crime of murder or violence against someone for the purpose of obtaining inheritance is related to the motives and motivations for committing crimes, and Egyptian law does not care much about the issue of “motives”.
This is evidenced by the fact that the legislator (the creator of the law represented by the state and its executive and legislative bodies) did not specify a specific penalty for committing an offense for the purpose of seizing inheritance, nor did it include motives or the relation to the victim in determining the penalties for the various offenses. However the court may take into account the motive for committing the offense in deciding on the penalty, within the framework of the authority granted to it by the law to evaluate the punishment.
Salem considers that the crimes of kidnapping and assaulting the victim for the purpose of blackmailing her and forcing her to sign papers waiving her inheritance or the like, fall within the framework of felonies of attempted murder accompanied by another misdemeanor, which is punishable by death, noting that victims who were forced to sign waiver papers have the right to file an appeal and nullify them because they had occurred under clear physical coercion.
Bad and improper upbringing
For his part, Dr. Fathi Kenawy, Professor of Crime Detection at the National Center for Social and Criminological Research (NCSCR), believes that that criminal who kills the victim to seize her inheritance believes that he will get away with it, because the crime takes place within the family which may help cover it up, and the crime may take place in a society where cases of revenge are widespread and accept murder under the pretext of honor, in order to reduce his sentence after his arrest, but investigations and security investigations often reveal the truth.
Kenawy stresses that social media is what has brought these family crimes out into the open, and highlighted them, but that this has also somewhat lessened the impact of crime, spreading violence and increasing the number of crimes. He goes on to stress on the importance of tv dramas and ‘soft power’ in reducing violence and crimes instead of increasing their spread, calling on religious institutions to spread more awareness on religious rulings regarding inheritance, the importance of kinship and ties to relatives, and the prohibition of these crimes.
Thus, the article was emptied of its contents
Abd el-Fattah Yahya, director of the Legal Unit at the Center for Egyptian Women Legal Assistance, explains that the article criminalizing the act of depriving women of inheritance was added to the Egyptian law in 2018, and it is a good article, but there are problems regarding its application, because there are judicial rulings that do not criminalize the person who deprives women of their inheritance, on the basis that inheritance is common and there is no specific share for an individual in it, and thus the article was emptied of its contents after it had been aimed at deterring those who seize women's inheritance. He points out that people refrain from buying land that is disputed between male and female heirs, and women often do not have the identification papers that prove their share in the inheritance.
Yahya stresses that there’s no inheritance whatsoever for a murderer, explaining that it is different in the event that the deceased is the owner of the inheritance, like when the son kills his father to inherit from him. That is when his right to inheritance is forfeited legally, but what usually happens in this type of crime is disputes over inheritance between the heirs that lead up one to killing the other, like when a brother disagrees with his sister over a piece of land he inherited, so he kills her and her share goes to her legitimate heirs, such as the husband and children.
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