Modernizing Egypt, Slowly Empowering Egyptian Women
"Why cannot we, as a state concerned with the safeguarding of society ... issue a law that only legalizes divorce when done in the presence of a Maazoun [cleric authorized by government to officiate marriage and divorce] so we can give the couple a chance to reconsider?"
"It cannot be just a word that is casually uttered. [Children would be protected under a proposed law, preventing 'inappropriate behaviour'."
Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sissi
|Egyptian President Fatah el-Sissi, AP|
President el-Sissi, with much on his agenda, not the least of which is Egypt's economy, its domestic crime rate, sectarian hostilities, the pressures of Islamists loyal to the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and the violent attacks taking place in the Sinai by Salafist Bedouin, Islamic State and el-Qaeda militias and Brotherhood-linked Hamas on Egyptian police and military, still obviously uses his nimble brain to ruminate on how Egyptian society could benefit by setting aside some of the Islamist-inspired cultural traditions such as a man's prerogative to end a marriage simply by stating "I divorce you" three times in succession.
As a devout Muslim himself, President el-Sissi is aware of creeping fundamentalist Islamism and the violence that ensues, and has expressed his frustration in the past over ancient Islamic scripture being revived that reflects the mores of its medieval past, rather than moving forward into the 21st Century. In particular, he has spoken of Islamic exceptionalism and jihad, rejecting both as inappropriate for a world religion and deploring the existence of terrorist groups patterning themselves on the Islam of its early years of bloody conquest.
Now he has addressed himself to his nation's high divorce rate. He feels that legislation that would outlaw the verbally valid divorce in Sharia law -- to make it mandatory for Muslim men and their spouses to seek out alternatives to spur-of-the-moment sundering of a marriage contract -- would represent a step forward. President el-Sissi spoke recently during a televised address of his alarm on hearing from the head of the nation's Statistics Bureau that some 40 percent of Egypt's annual 900,000 marriages last a mere five years.
Legislation was required -- he suggested to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the international authority of the Muslim world and of religious learning and jurisprudence -- that would de-legalize the too-simple social convention of three-times-repeated "I divorce you", which could be initiated only by a man. Divorce should ideally be legal only when announced in the presence of an officially authorized cleric, he sressed. The idea being to avert emotional arguments between husband and wife, descending to a splintering of the marriage.
The old verbal protocol, announcing the dissolution of a marriage, satisfies the traditional patriarchy in Egypt which considers that kind of decision the prerogative of the male. President el-Sissi's foray into reforming such outdated cultural traditions is not popularly embraced by either conservative militants or fundamentalist clerics. President el-Sissi understands these dynamics well, that he requires the cooperation of Al Azhar's grand imam, sheik Ahmed al-Tayeb, for success in overturning the male-centric privilege.
But the Egyptian president is firm in his belief that Islam is badly in need of a new image, and to do so would require expunging the interpretation of the radical readings of the Koran, popularized by militant groups such as the Islamic State. "It's a harsh war and the entire world knows that we are fighting it alone", said President el-Sissi in contradiction of pro-government media asserting that the militants were on the verge of destruction, successfully challenged by the Egyptian military.
The President's views on sexual harassment in Egyptian society as a chronic social ill, has him speaking forcefully in condemning the practise. He guided his 596 seat parliament last year on producing tougher penalties for female genital mutilation, where amendments to punish perpetrators with up to 15 years in prison should a child die as a result of the medieval practise, and up to seven years for performing the procedure.
Egypt is well served under his tutelage and guidance.