(Jan. 9, 2020) On November 25, 2019, the Cairo Court of Appeal granted a Christian woman a share of her late father’s inheritance equal to that of her two male brothers.
The plaintiff had argued that, as a Coptic Christian, she should not be subject to Islamic law in matters related to family law. She pointed out that article 3 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution grants the right to Egyptian Christians to apply their religious laws regarding matters related to family law disputes.
Article 3 was first incorporated into the Egyptian Constitution in 2014. During the deliberations on the draft provisions of the 2014 constitution, members of the Constituent Assembly approved article 3 to ensure that the principle of national unity between Christians and Muslims in Egypt was enshrined in the constitution. Previous constitutions did not include such a principle. In fact, article 2 in previous Egyptian constitutions always stated that Islamic law was the main source of legislation and, accordingly, any legislation violating the rules of Islamic law was deemed unconstitutional.
Citing articles 245 and 247 of the Christian Orthodox Personal Status Bylaws of 1938, she also claimed that Christian law calls for an equal inheritance share for women and men. The Bylaws of 1938 additionally state that Coptic Christian women should receive an equal inheritance share to those of their brothers, with article 245 stipulating that there should be no difference between the brother and the sister’s share. Article 247 further provides that after the husband or the wife receives his/her share of a late spouse’s inheritance, the rest of the shares are to go to the late spouse’s brothers and sisters if there are no children, and the sisters and brothers are to receive equal shares of inheritance. Accordingly, the plaintiff requested that the Court apply the inheritance rules of the Christian law, not those of Islamic law.
Previous Court Decisions
Previously, courts had ruled in favor of granting women half of the inheritance of their male brothers on the basis of verse 11 of Surat An-Nisaa of the Qur’an, which states, “for the male, what is equal to the share of two females.” Courts had also relied on article 2 of the 2014 Egyptian Constitution, which states that “Islam is the religion of the state and the principles of Islamic Sharia are the principle source of legislation.”
Reaction to the Case
Nongovernment organizations, such as the Egyptian Initiatives for Personal and Social Rights, endorsed the Court’s decision, claiming that the decision will serve as a precedent that paves the way for other Christian women to use in future cases related to the distribution of inheritance shares. In this regard, Egyptian legal expert Mustafa Qubani added that articles 231 through 251 of the Christian Orthodox Personal Status Bylaws of 1938 contain 11 different provisions governing the distribution of inheritance shares among family members.