In the first decade of the new millennium, a series of new procedural personal status laws were passed in Egypt, with great significance for women. However, many of those who pushed for these reforms felt that the lack of comprehensive changes in the substantive laws undermined the new procedural laws and maintained a legal system that legitimised hierarchical gender roles and relations. Accordingly, since 2005 there have been initiatives to introduce a new comprehensive family law. These new efforts have triggered a heated public debate. This chapter will shed light on this debate.
The author will outline the reforms that are being proposed. Then she will identify the main interlocutors in the debate, and analyse their arguments highlighting the ideological frameworks and sociopolitical context shaping these positions. The aim of the author is twofold: First, she seeks to highlight the multiplicity and diversity among the ‘religious’ arguments and positions that are being adopted by the interlocutors. Secondly, she will point to a number of issues that have been driving the debate, and which go beyond the question of whether the proposed reforms are compatible with the doctrines of Islamic Shari’a. These issues are: struggles among different religious discourses for legitimacy; the contradictions of seeking gender justice through state institutions such as the law in a context where citizens are suffering from state oppression and its failure to ensure their citizenship rights; and disagreements among different actors who seek (or endorse) gender justice in the family domain about the suitability of global feminism (inspired by international conventions) as a credible framework for advocacy and action.
The contestations that are analysed in this chapter about religious, feminist, legal, and political discourses and institutions in regard to advocacy work to reform the country’s family laws have become even of more significance after the 25 January 2011. Few months after the unfolding of the Egyptian revolution, there have been organised backlash initiatives against some of new laws that were introduced two decades ago (e.g. khul law) as well as opposition to on-going feminist activists efforts to introduce comprehensive gender-sensitive family law.
The debates taking place in Egyptian media around these issues for the past two years (including an article published by the author of this chapter in the daily Al Shorouk on April 7, 2012) tackle the same issues that are addressed in this chapter (e.g. the challenges of addressing gender inequality through state-centered legal reforms in the context of a corrupt government that lacks legitimacy with its people; and the challenges and benefits of religious discourses that either endorse or oppose gender-sensitive legal reform because of their multiplicity, their competing claims to legitimacy, and their interplay with legal and political discourses shaping reform efforts and initiatives).