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"Here, girls have no rights": The lost inheritance of women in Egypt

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Life Women’s Rights

Thursday 11 May 202304:55 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"البنات ملهمش ورث والبيوت للجدعان"... ميراث البنات الضائع في مصر

A few months ago, Israa Tarek, an orphaned student studying at Zagazig University, published a Facebook post seeking legal advice and searching for a lawyer to help her find a solution that would protect her and her four-year-old sister from their uncles.

"My sister and I were left in the street"

According to her post, Israa claimed that her uncles wanted to force her to sell their father's house and give them her and her sister's share of the inheritance. She complained that the value of her and her sister's share of the house, which is two-thirds according to Islamic law due to the absence of a brother, is not enough to even buy a small apartment. She said, "I have three uncles who want me to sell the house so they can take their inheritance. I have nowhere to go with my 4-year-old sister. Moreover, our share cannot afford us a place, and I don't know where to go."

Israa had no income to help her rent another house, and her eldest uncle resorted to beating her in order to force her to sign the document for the sale of the house. But she continued to refuse, fearing she would find herself on the street without shelter, at a time when she didn't have enough to meet her and her young sister's food needs, and she also currently lives in debt until she can receive her father's pension.

Her pleas stirred up the emotions of many Egyptians who interacted with her post, until it reached the Egyptian Prime Minister's office, which intervened by force and compelled her father's siblings to waive their share of the inheritance. Israa commented on the outcome, saying, "For the first time in five months, I can lay my head on my pillow and feel at ease. Justice has been served."

While Israa's issue was resolved, thousands of women still find themselves forced to give up their inheritance by male family members.

"My uncles want me to sell the house so they can take the inheritance. They even beat me to force me to sign the document for the sale of the house. I have nowhere to go with my 4-year-old sister. Where should we go?" — Israa, an orphaned Egyptian student

Zainab Farouk, a 28-year-old housewife living in Minya Governorate, tells Raseef22 that her father died nine years ago, leaving them agricultural land, residential buildings, and more than 10 million Egyptian pounds, equivalent to $509,000 dollars. However, her brothers absolutely refused to give the girls their share of the inheritance. Due to the difficult financial circumstances she and her husband are in, she lives in a deteriorating single-story house. She went to her elder brother asking for her rightful share of the inheritance, but he insisted on refusing her. She said, "My situation is difficult. I asked my brother for my share of the inheritance, and he told me that girls have no rights."

Zainab was disturbed by his response, so she and her sisters filed a police report against their brother for refusing to give them their rightful inheritance. As soon as their uncle learned about the situation, he went to their homes, where they are all married, and physically beat them and forced them to withdraw the report. One of them wanted to claim her share to undergo an IVF procedure because she wanted to have a child.

The sisters reported their brother for refusing to give them their rightful inheritance. As soon as their uncle learned about the situation, he went to their homes, where they are all married, beat them, and forced them to withdraw the report

Umm Mohammed, 40, tells Raseef22 that her father, who is still alive, refused to give her and her sister their share of his assets and gave everything he owned to her brothers. She says, "When I found out that he gave his properties to my brothers, I went and asked him why, father, don't we have any as your daughters? He said: 'Houses are for men'."

The value of each house from her father's assets exceeds three million Egyptian pounds (equivalent to $152,000 dollars), in addition to a house in Cairo and another house in Qalyubiyya Governorate. Her late father refused, claiming that she gets money from her husband's work and didn't need money. She adds, "My father sees that I and my husband are living well, so he thinks I don't deserve anything."

According to prevailing inheritance customs in Upper Egypt, women have no right to inherit, whether from their father or mother, especially when it comes to real estate such as houses, buildings, and farms.

If they demand their rights, they are beaten, cut off from the family, or worse

Because she demanded her right from her late father's house, Jamal, 55, prevented his niece Mervat from even visiting him, even though he married her mother after her father's death. Mervat, 31, says, "My uncle, my mother, and my brothers cut me off because I took my rightful share of my father's house. If it weren't for the difficult circumstances, my husband would have ended up in prison, or I wouldn't have taken anything."

As for Ahmed Mokhtar, 36, an accountant, he says to Raseef22 that his grandfather deprived his mother of her legal inheritance in his estate, which amounts to five million Egyptian pounds (equivalent to $254,000 dollars). When Ahmed tried to push her to legally claim her inheritance, she told him, "I forgive him, and you shouldn't get involved."

The inheritance of the mother of Rabab Mohamed, 39, a housewife residing in Beni Suef city, amounted to 120,000 Egyptian pounds in 2012, equivalent to $6,109 dollars currently. However, her mother's brothers refused to sell the house and then each uncle went and occupied a complete floor for himself. She adds, "My uncles refused to sell and only gave her 50,000 Egyptian pounds (equivalent to $2,545 dollars), which is less than half of her rightful share."

Najlaa Berjer, a 45-year-old woman who works in the tourism industry, narrates that the housekeeper who used to work for her, and was from Minya, inherited an agricultural land from her father. However, her brother refused to give her her share of their father's inheritance, leaving her filled with grief and heartbreak. On her way back to Cairo, she died in a car accident.

According to prevailing inheritance customs in Upper Egypt, women have no right to inherit, whether from their father or mother, especially when it comes to real estate such as houses, buildings, and farms

Ahmed al-Kayal, an official in the Sharia and Criminal Courts in Egypt, says to Raseef22, "There are many cases concerning women in Islamic law, and they are legally implemented according to Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution. Among these cases is, if a deceased father has only one daughter, she inherits half of his wealth, and the rest is distributed among his relatives. If he leaves behind two daughters, they inherit two-thirds of his estate. In the case of a deceased mother, the inheritance is divided in the same way. Even if a father has multiple daughters, even if they number 10, they will receive two-thirds of the inheritance, and the rest is distributed among other male relatives."

Cancelling Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution

Hala Doma, a human rights and feminist activist, tells Raseef22, "The tragic situation that Israa Tarek experienced was resolved because the girl sought help through social media platforms. However, there are hundreds of thousands of women who have lost their rights and cannot do anything about it."

She confirms that there is no room to amend inheritance laws or any laws related to personal status in Egypt in a fair manner for women unless Article 2 of the Constitution is abolished. This article states that "Islam is the religion of the state, Arabic is its official language, and the principles of Islamic law are the main source of legislation," bearing in mind that this law is used as an excuse to strip women of their inheritance rights, but in reality, Islamic law is not being put into proper practice in this regard, rather only in name.

She adds, "As long as Article 2 remains in place, women cannot be justly treated by the law, especially regarding inheritance." Doma also explained that any attempt to change any law that contradicts Islamic law in Egypt will inevitably lead to its cancellation because it is in violation of the current constitution.

Doma recalls the draft Family Law, as there was a proposed law that allowed for the cancellation of verbal divorce and stipulated that divorces be in writing before they could be implemented. However, due to the reliance on Islamic legal texts, the proposed law was rejected.


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