• 19:11
  • Sunday ,25 July 2010

A woman’s inheritance

Youseef Sidhom



Sunday ,25 July 2010

A woman’s inheritance

 Two weeks ago I wrote about the injustice commonly inflicted upon Egyptian women where inheritance is concerned. Even though the law allots a woman half the share her brother inherits, she more often than not ends up getting nothing at all of her due inheritance, especially when it involves land. The common excuses cited for such ignoble practice is that the land should not be passed on to ‘strangers’—meaning a woman’s husband or her sons who naturally bear their father’s name—but should remain in the hands of the male members of the family. Even when the inheritance does not involve land, it is claimed females are supported by males so should merit half their share. These are all lame excuses, since women today take up full responsibility in supporting their families. Besides, it is very common for those men who end up usurping their women relatives’ legacies to contribute not the slightest effort or share towards supporting these women or their children. Traditional manly nobility has come to a sorry end.

It appears that the issue caught the attention of some who consider themselves the guardians of the wretched status quo in Egypt. As such, they viciously confront any attempt to expose or change it. They mobilise their efforts to distort and tarnish the facts, until the case is taken out of all objective context. The deformed issue is then splashed out over the press, media outlets, and satellite channels. Distorted information and half-truths work wonders to delude the public and build fake awareness. One need only observe the messages and emails that form the bulk of reader or viewer response to distorted facts propagated by the media, to realise the full extent of public mis-awareness. It is very obvious that the public is unquestioningly receptive of the media address; the information relayed by the media is considered unequivocally truthful and public opinion is tailored accordingly.
An email I recently received represents the epitome of media-misled public response. Commenting on my 11 July editorial on the injustice of women’s inheritance in Egypt, N.Z obviously never read what I wrote but merely heard or read about it somewhere. “You lie, Youssef Sidhom,” he wrote to me, “about inheritance in Islamic sharia, where a woman is entitled to half a man’s share in only four cases. This is in the case of a daughter and her brothers, or a son’s daughter and a son’s son; a father and mother with no children or children-in-law; a sister and her brothers; a father’s sister and her brothers.
“You also lie about the Muslim woman who complained of her brothers-in-law’s injustice in refusing to hand over to her and her daughters their share in her late husband’s legacy. Why should she complain to the likes of you instead of taking her case to court? What do you, Christian, have to do with that?”
The message was so full or errors it was practically ludicrous. I found myself pitying the writer; he had very obviously never read what I wrote. 
I never tackled the system of Islamic inheritance, especially since the inheritance law in Egypt applies to all Egyptians, Muslims as well as Christians. I tackled the issue from a rights viewpoint since all Egyptian women suffer equally from the injustice.
I never denoted the woman as Muslim or Christian. I merely used her initials to protect her privacy. However did N.Z conclude she was Muslim? And how would he assess the matter if he knew she was Christian? Would it make him reverse his judgement?
Had N.Z read what I wrote, he would have known that the woman did not complain to ‘the likes of me’ instead of taking her case to court. My article cited in detail the court rulings in favour of this woman and her unfailing effort to have them implemented, but to no avail. 
The “only four cases” cited by N.Z in which a woman inherits—according to sharia—half the share her male relative inherits represent, as I see them, the full spectrum of women in society. Would N.Z kindly inform me of the cases in which a woman is entitled to an equal inheritance as her male relatives? 
As to the conclusion of N.Z’s letter in which he asks: “What do you, Christian, have to do with that?” exposes the bitter fanaticism behind the entire matter. It has become almost impossible for a Christian to debate a societal issue which has apparent Islamic backing—and vice versa.