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Huda Nasrallah, a 40-year-old human rights lawyer, is taking on the country's unequal Islamic inheritance laws that mean female heirs inherit half that of men. Since her father's death last year, this Coptic Christian woman has stood before three different judges to demand that the inheritance left behind by her father be divided equally between her and her two brothers, who have testified in court alongside her, but the court has twice ignored their testimony. Nasrallah has tried to win this case by using Christian doctrine that dictates heirs, regardless of their gender, receive equal shares, but the courts have chosen to use Islamic law as their justification.
Obviously, this woman is fighting for all women and their equality, because, as she said: "It is not really about inheritance, my father did not leave us millions of Egyptian pounds." "I have the right to ask to be treated equally as my brothers." A final verdict is expected to be handed down later this month.
As the AlJazeera reports, calls for equal inheritance rights began to reverberate across the Arab world after the Tunisian government proposed a bill to this effect last year. Muslim feminists hailed the bill.
But there has been a backlash from elsewhere in the Arab world.
Egypt's Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni religious institution in the Muslim world, vehemently dismissed the proposal as contradictory to Islamic law and destabilizing to Muslim societies. But there is hope that Tunisia could have broken the taboo on the topic for the region.
Nasrallah's father, a former state clerk, died in December 2018 leaving behind a four-story apartment building in a low-income neighborhood of Cairo and a bank deposit. When Huda Nasrallah and her brothers filed their request for inheritance at a local court, Nasrallah invoked a church-sanctioned Coptic bylaw that calls for equal distribution of inheritance. She says she was encouraged by a 2016 ruling that a Cairo court handed down in favor of a Coptic woman who challenged Islamic inheritance laws.
"The issue of inheritance goes beyond religious rules. It has to do with the nature of the society we are living in and Egypt's misogynistic judicial system," said Hind Ahmed Zaki, a political science assistant professor at Connecticut University. Actually, the state fears that if they grant equal property rights to Christian women, Muslim women will soon ask for the same.
Girgis Bebawy, a Coptic lawyer, who represented dozens of Copts in similar cases, hopes that the latest case, which is currently before Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, could end differently. "It's religious intolerance," he says.