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Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Divorce law fails to prompt deluge
Egyptian women in museum
Egyptian women are still wary of going through divorce
By Caroline Hawley in Cairo

In Egypt, the first divorces are beginning to come through under a new law making it easier for women to end unhappy marriages.

The law, passed in January, was extremely controversial at the time. Many men argued it was un-Islamic and would lead to the break-up of the Egyptian family. But the avalanche of divorces predicted by critics of the new law has not happened.

Until new legal amendments went into effect almost six months ago, the only way for a woman to get one was if she could prove to a court she had been ill-treated - a process that could take many years.

'Step forward'

The new law is, in its context, revolutionary. For the first time, women can initiate divorce on grounds of incompatibility. But they must renounce all financial claims and return money given at the time of marriage - an arrangement known in Islam as khula.

The bill's supporters hailed it a major step forward for women. Many men were outraged.

At Egypt's biggest court dealing with marriage and divorce, the flood of women trying to leave their husbands - predicted by critics of the new law - has not materialised.

There are no full statistics, but the Justice Ministry says that in the first six weeks of the khula law only about 1,300 women across the country filed cases.

Stigma

Many of them had grounds for divorce under existing legislation, but did not want to spend years trying to prove they had been mistreated.


Now women can easily get out of the marriage, without having to pay the rest of their lives for one single mistake that they made at a young age

Mona Zulficar
Mona Zulficar, one of the bill¿s main backers, says many women may not yet know about the law, or trust that it will work. Divorce for women also remains a stigma.

She says: "Egyptian women do not go to the courts unless this is the very last resort and unless the marriage is really hopeless.

"The rate of divorce in Egypt is not a very high rate of divorce generally speaking, but it was very difficult for women to obtain it.

"Now they can easily get out of the marriage, without having to pay the rest of their lives for one single mistake that they made at a young age."

This is a mistake that particularly in conservative rural areas may well have been imposed on them by their families.

As overall divorce rates in Egypt increase, lawyers predict the number of women seeking khula will also rise.

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See also:

23 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egyptian woman seeks divorce job
14 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egyptian woman's divorce in court
17 Jan 00 | Middle East
Egypt debates better deal for women
23 Oct 99 | Middle East
Egyptian women's rights: A century on
27 Jan 00 | Middle East
Small victory for Egyptian women
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