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September 6, 2016

In a previous article, I assessed how much Egypt’s Muslims could be classified as extremists. That was based on the Pew survey by the Pew Research Center which was conducted in Egypt in 2011/2012 and published in 2014. The assessment showed that most Egyptian Muslims were extremist in their political and social views and in what they want for Egypt and the Copts (and other faiths).

For a long time I have been pointing to the strong relationship between Egypt’s women rights (regardless of religion) and the rights of the Copts. It is my belief that when Coptic rights progress, women rights follow suit; and on the other hand, when the Copts are oppressed, Egyptian women are oppressed too. The reason for that is clear: Coptic and women rights in Egypt are a function of Islam and Western liberal values in society: the stronger Islam becomes as a political force in society and state (and the weaker liberal values), the lower Coptic and women rights plummet; and the weaker Islam becomes as a political force in society and state (and the stronger liberal values), the higher Coptic and women rights rise to.

Because of the above, I studied also the results of the Pew survey on the position of women in society (Chapter 4). The survey asked four questions:

  1. Must a wife always obey her husband? (the keyword is ‘always’)
  2. Should a wife have the right to divorce her husband?
  3. Should women decide for themselves if they wear a veil in public or should it be imposed on them?
  4. Should sons and daughters have equal inheritance rights?


The questions are pertinent to Islam. I guess the surveyors wanted to assess the strength of Islamic principles on these issues. For example, according to Quran (4:11), daughters should receive half share of inheritance for every one share given to a son; and all main Islamic schools of jurisprudence (mazahib fiqhia), including the two prominent schools of fiqh in Egypt (Shafi’ism and Malikism) require all women to veil.

Here are the results of Egypt’s Muslims (the study surveyed both men and women) opinion on the position of women in society:

  1. MUST A WIFE ALWAYS OBEY HER HUSBAND? 85% answered yes.


2. SHOULD A WIFE HAVE THE RIGHT TO DIVORCE HER HUSBAND? 22% only said yes. This is lower than 19 countries in Asia, Europe and Africa: Egypt ties with Jordan, and only Iraq and Malaysia score lower.


3. SHOULD WOMEN DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES IF THEY WEAR A VEIL IN PUBLIC OR SHOULD IT BE IMPOSED ON THEM? Only 46% said a woman should be free to decide whether she wear a veil in public or not: the majority (54%) do not think women should have that freedom.



4. SHOULD SONS AND DAUGHTERS HAVE EQUAL INHERITANCE RIGHTS? Only 26% of Egyptian Muslims answer positively. 74% do not think daughters should be given equal share to boys.




In all questions Egyptian Muslims show there are extremely conservative. Their views are shaped by Sharia and not by modern values that guarantee equal rights to both men and women. In Sharia women are not treated equally: they must obey their husbands always, and if they disobey their husbands in anything, they are beaten, abandoned and the “angels” curse them. Further, in Sharia women do not have the right to divorce their husbands except in very restricted circumstances, which are termed Khol’a, a matter introduced to Egypt only recently and is obtained only with extreme difficulty. In contrast, a man can marry four wives, and can divorce them just by uttering the word “divorce” and throwing it at a wife. Furthermore, in Sharia all women must veil. And last, women inherit only half of their male sibling’s share.

Egyptian Muslim society reflects these unfair attitudes towards women. The survey looked at the effect of Sharia on the answers, and it found that differences between those who want Sharia to be the official law and those who do not are most pronounced when it comes to the role of wives and the position of women. In all four questions above, those who wanted Sharia scored worse than those who didn’t want Sharia to be the law of the land.[1]

We have seen in the previous study the appalling views on Egypt’s Muslims on the Copts; now we see them on women. The fate of the women of Egypt in society and state and that of the Copts in Egypt are entwined.

[1] Egypt was not included in this study, but the effect of Sharia was tested in 10 countries with all confirming what I have written in the main text.

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