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Year: 2009 Type: Report Language: English

In this paper, presented to 'Pathways: What are we Learning?' Analysis Conference, Cairo, 20-24 January 2009, I want to argue against a common and perhaps a temptingly easy understanding that posits a direct and problematic link between the challenges of reforming Egyptian personal status laws and their seemingly inescapable religious identity. Such a reading has a homogenizing effect that: 1) collapses those who take issue with the proposed changes in the substantive laws from a religious perspective into one unitary position, 2) fails to appreciate the interconnectedness of secular (e.g. human rights) and religious discourses that frame the debates about the new legal reforms, and 3) conceals a number of underlying issues which go beyond the question of the religious boundaries of the family laws. These issues are concerned with: the notions of female subjectivity and family adopted in different discourses, the sociality and historicity of law, the limits of its role as a tool of change, and the link between the cultural and religious in tracing discriminatory interpretations of gender relations and roles.