National laws and international agreements

While Egypt’s penal code is largely based on Western statutes, laws on personal status (such as marriage, divorce and inheritance) are derived from shari‘a, or Islamic law. For Muslims, that is; under the 2012 Constitution, Egypt’s Christian (and Jewish) minority is vouchsafed resolution of personal status issues are according to their own religious canons. For more on the practical challenges facing Egyptian Copts in exercising such rights, see “Sectarian conflict and family law in contemporary Egypt”, by Saba Mahmood.

But a constitutional foundation in shari‘a can cause problems when it comes to international law. For example, Egypt ratified the international Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1981, with the provision that articles seen to violate shari‘a (on gender-equality of inheritance, for example) would not be implemented. That said, some of the country’s original reservations, such as the right of women to pass on nationality to their children, have been reversed, over the years—though some of these reforms were in danger of being overturned in the post-Mubarak period and the newfound political clout of Islamic conservatives. For more on such legal pressure points, see Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law, edited by Anver Emon et al.