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Sunday, 30 July, 2000, 19:50 GMT 20:50 UK
Smoking spouses face divorce in Egypt

By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

A controversial new fatwa has been issued in Egypt ruling that having a spouse who smokes is legitimate grounds for divorce.

The ruling was given by the country's mufti, Farid Naser Wasel, at the request of an anti-smoking campaign group after a fatwa against cigarettes earlier this year was largely ignored.

This latest fatwa is raising eyebrows though because it comes at a sensitive time in public perceptions of marriage.

Cheap pleasure

Egyptian marketplace
About half of Egyptians smoke
About half of all Egyptians indulge either in cigarettes, or water pipes, or both.

It is a cheap form of pleasure which is on the rise, especially officials say, among young people and women, for whom it was long considered unseemly to light up.

Although a state-owned company still sells Egypt's most popular brand of cigarettes, Cleopatra, the government and anti-smoking campaigners are now trying to curb the trend, with the help of Egypt's religious authorities.

The traditional Islamic view has always been that anything that harms your health is sinful, but enlisting religion in the fight against smoking is a new tactic.

Mosque
Traditionally, Islam has said that anything that was harmful to health was sinful
The mufti's latest ruling against cigarettes has provoked controversy by declaring the habit legitimate grounds for divorce.

Some fear that the institution of marriage - the bedrock of Egyptian society - could go up in smoke if the ruling is widely observed.

Earlier this year a new law making it easier for women to divorce provoked an outcry from men.

The debate now is whether the health risks of smoking outweigh the risk of family break-up.

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See also:

14 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egyptian woman's divorce in court
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Egypt debates better deal for women
12 Mar 00 | Middle East
'New era' for Egyptian women
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Egyptian women's rights: A century on
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Small victory for Egyptian women
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More bad news for smokers
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Smoking
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