Egypt’s Revolution and the New Feminism

5429456386_94aa3d4f46 This was depressing news. On the larger question of gender equality in Egypt, Margot Badran in Immanent Frame:

With the dismantling of the three-decade-old autocracy of Mubarak—itself a continuation of the previous autocracy—and the hierarchies that spawned spirals of injustice as people’s basic rights were hijacked, the people of Egypt, led by its youth, grabbed for themselves the chance to rebuild.

The builders of the new Egypt want nothing less than full equality in law and practice, justice, and dignity for all. As we speak, a special committee is drafting a new constitution (to supplant the previous one that was arbitrarily altered by Mubarak). Laws that undermine the equality, justice, and dignity of the citizens of Egypt must either go or be drastically overhauled. The Muslim Personal Status Code (also referred to as family law) structures a model of the family based on a patriarchal understanding of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). This law, by formalizing male authority and power, shores up a system of gender inequality. The husband is cast as the head of family, with the attendant privileges and prerogatives, along with obligations of protection and support, while the wife, as subordinate, owes obedience to her husband and must render services in return for his support and protection, whether she wants it or not.

Feminists, as well as other reformers, have tried since the early twentieth century to reform the Muslim Personal Status Code. Over the years, they obtained only minor adjustments in the law, which did not disturb the patriarchal family model. A common excuse for this failure to reform the Muslim Personal Status Code is that it is religious law, part of the shar ‘iah, and therefore sacred and immutable. The confusion of fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence, which is man-made, with the shar ‘iah, which is the path to a virtuous life, ascertained from the Qur’an, has been a potent deterrent of change. However, it is possible to enact an egalitarian family law based in Islamic jurisprudence, as Morocco did in 2004, with the overhaul of the Mudawanna that recast husband and wife as equal heads of the family. It is also theoretically possible, if politically difficult, to enact into law a secular egalitarian model of the family that would reflect the spirit of religion and its ideals of equality, justice, and dignity, the ulemah, or religious scholars, in Turkey say their country’s secular family law does.