‘I hereby divorce you!’ Egypt’s verbal divorce phenomenon surges


“Can’t we have a law that makes divorce only effective when it is documented?” asked Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in a televised speech he gave at the Police Day celebration on January 24. “If marriage is documented then the same should apply to divorce.” Sisi then addressed the Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, who was among the attendees: “Don’t you agree with me, your eminence?”

He then playfully added, “You are giving me a hard time, your eminence!” Sisi was referring to verbal divorce through which a Muslim husband can end the marriage through uttering the words, “I, hereby, divorce you.” Throughout the few days that followed the speech, the issue of verbal divorce has become the talk of the town with growing speculations over an imminent legislation and equally growing debates on the possibility of changing what is seen as an integral part of Islamic family law.

For journalist Mahmoud Bakri, what seemed like a joke between Sisi and Tayeb is actually an indication of the tension between the presidency and al-Azhar as far as religious discourse is concerned. “This is not the first time Sisi criticizes al-Azhar for not embarking on serious attempts to adapt religious laws to modern times and to correct untruthful conceptions of Islamic ideology,” he wrote. “True, Sisi has been calling for a reform in Azhar as a means to combat terrorism both in Egypt and the Islamic world, but now his criticism was also directed at the way al-Azhar handles family law.”


Bakri noted that talk about banning verbal divorce started in mid-2016 based on a book entitled Verbal Divorce Ban for Documented Marriages in Egypt by professor of comparative jurisprudence at al-Azhar University Saad al-Din al-Helali. “A committee to discuss the matter was formed by al-Azhar. It included representatives of the four Islamic schools of thought as well as historians and theologians and they agreed against the ban.” Bakri argues that Sisi is asking al-Azhar to reconsider its position. “This puts al-Azhar is a very awkward situation since it either takes the president’s request seriously or risk an escalation of tension with the presidency.”

Sisi’s call for banning verbal divorce stirred much controversy among religious scholars. Islamic preacher Khaled al-Gindi, who had previously filed a lawsuit against the prime minister, the Ministry of Justice, and al-Azhar’s grand imam to demand banning verbal divorce but dropped it following Sisi’s speech, argued that verbal divorce does not count. “There are two contracts, one for marriage and another for divorce. Only the second can annul the first,” he said. “If a man divorces his wife verbally 20,000 times, this has no value whatsoever.” Gindi noted that verbal divorce was only valid at a time when all contracts were verbal and documentation did not exist. “Verbal contracts were totally eliminated in 1931 and ever since every deal has to be documented.”

Professor of Islamic law at al-Azhar University Ahmed Kereima argued that all transactions were originally verbal and the words said were translated into action. “Any contract is based on wording because wording is indicative of an intention to do a certain action,” he said. “Documentation is only an administrative formality that aims at preserving the rights of the parties involved in this contract.” According to Kereima, verbal divorce has been valid since the establishment of the Islamic nation and is agreed upon by the four schools of thought and by the majority of scholars. “It is also part of the Quran and the prophet’s teachings, so demanding otherwise is absolutely unacceptable because this would be a secularization of God’s laws.” When asked if banning verbal divorce would reduce growing divorce rates as Sisi said in his speech, Kereima replied in the negative. “When a man divorces his wife verbally while he is angry or ill or without meaning it, he can seek advice from al-Azhar which can then find a way out for him since divorce has to be based on a firm intention to end the marriage,” he said. “Plus, society needs to adapt to the rules of Islam not the other way round.”

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Shawki Allam said that Dar al-Iftaa, the institution in charge of issuing religious edicts, receives an average of 3,200 inquiries about verbal divorce. “After thorough investigation of each case and after looking into the husband’s intentions and the circumstances under which verbal divorce took place, only three of them prove to be an actual divorce,” he said.


Preacher Mazhar Shahin said that there are hundreds of cases where women are trying to prove that they were verbally divorced and cannot remarry because of that. “All these women remain in limbo for they are neither married nor divorced and have no right to remarry because no document proves they were divorced,” he said. Shahin added that as “guardian” of the Egyptian nation, Sisi has the right to “restrict the permitted,” as he put it, if this is in the best interest of his nation.

MP and professor of theology Amna Nosseir said that Sisi’s request “sent ripples across stagnant water,” as she put, since it brought back to the forefront one of the most critical problems Egyptian families face. “I think that the Committee of Religious Affairs at the House of Representatives should start taking the necessary steps towards drafting a legislation that bans verbal divorce,” she said, adding that she will fully provide members of the committee with the scholarly help they would need in this regard.

MP and secretary general of the Committee of Religious Affairs at the House of Representatives Amr Hamroush said that the committee will be ready in a few days with a draft law that regulates verbal divorce. “We will meet with representatives of major religious institutions and prominent scholars to discuss the law and make sure it does not contradict Islamic law,” he said. “The law aims at protecting Egyptian families from disintegration and at preserving the rights of the wife and the children and it will include fines and jail sentences for violators.” MP and member of the same committee Mohamed Shaaban argued that the new law is a manifestation of respect for women as stipulated in Islam. “A woman will no longer be under the mercy of a few words said by an angry husband during an argument,” he said.

What remains of Egypt’s January 25 revolution?


On January 24, Egyptian state and private channels aired live from the Police Academy in Cairo a lengthy celebration of Police Day and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke of the sacrifices by officers to preserve national security and on January 25 the president gave a short speech from the presidential palace on the sacrifices offered by revolutionary youths to effect a real change.

While the January 2011 revolution erupted on the 25th to protest human rights violations committed by the police and to demand the toppling of the police state, six years later Police Day seems to have taken over once more at least at the official level. And with a large number of Egyptians questioning whether it was a revolution in the first place and others not remembering it at all, few are left to commemorate the popular uprising and fewer still see it as a defining moment of Egyptian modern history.

Hassan Nafaa, Professor of political science, said that mention of the January 25 Revolution in the official discourse has been dwindling over the years and that the same applies to most political parties. “This is expected since none of the revolution’s goals materialized,” he said.

“The military did not suppress the revolution because they wanted to stop the bequest of power scenario to make sure Mubarak’s son would not become president and when this plan worked, the old regime was back in a different form.”

Nafaa added that the revolution receded to the background because none of the revolutionaries is actually present in the public sphere. “In fact, the public sphere is now mostly occupied by people who do not believe in the revolution and who constantly deride it.”

Systematic campaign

Mokhtar Ghobashi, deputy director of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, argued that a systematic campaign was launched by regime loyalists, especially media professionals, to tarnish the image of the revolution and he particularly mentioned wiretaps involving leading revolutionaries. “There is no use whatsoever of airing years’ old wiretaps except to incite the public against the revolution through presenting it as a conspiracy that aimed at destabilizing national security and presenting the revolutionaries as a bunch of mercenaries,” he said.

Ghobashi noted that the timing of releasing the wiretaps reveals an attempt at distracting the people from remembering a revolution that “shook the whole world and not only Egypt,” as he put it. “Plus, where did they obtain those wiretaps from?” he wondered, possibly hinting that they might be fabricated.

Gamal Gibril, Professor of constitutional law, noted that despite several drawbacks, the revolution managed to make two critical changes in the political scene in Egypt. “First, it limited the presidency to two four-year terms so a president cannot stay in power as long as he wishes like what happened before,” he said.

“Second, it made the declaration and extension of the state of emergency contingent upon a number of strict conditions.”

Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, deputy director of the National Human Rights Council, said that while the revolution did not succeed in achieving many of its goals, it still made a substantial change. “The revolution put an end to the state of political stagnation that existed in the Mubarak era as the people became part of the public sphere and managed to get many of their demands through it,” he said.

Shokr added that drafting of a new constitution and holding presidential and parliamentary elections constitute extremely significant gains. “The revolution at least taught people a lot about their leverage and lobbying powers.”

Journalist Abdel Nasser Salama argued that there is no point remembering the January 2011 revolution whether by its supporters or detractors. “For the first group, the revolution was a source of frustration and for the second, it was a disaster, and now we are back to square one,” he wrote, adding that the Egyptian people are the real victim since they had high hopes that were eventually dashed.

For Salama, the revolution was a failure on all fronts, which becomes obvious in the immaturity of the revolutionaries, the greed of regime loyalists, economic and political conditions, and human rights violations “Celebrating the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution is a form of hypocrisy. Let us look for another date to celebrate and let us get over this one as we got over other past defeats. Meanwhile, January 25 will only be Police Day.”

No conflict

MP Mohamed Abu Hamed argued that there is not conflict between celebrating Police Day and commemorating the January 2011 revolution since both cases represent a struggle for freedom. “On January 25, 2011, Egyptians people took to the streets to topple a repressive regime and on January 25, 1952, Egyptian police officers fought British occupation forces,” he said in reference to the clashes that took place in the Ismailia governorate and in which British forces killed 50 policemen and injured 80.

“People in the two sacrificed their lives.” Abu Hamed argued that hostile sentiments against the revolution are partly attributed to the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood whose members “hijacked the revolution,” as he put it. “That is why official discourse should include a distinction between those who wanted freedom and justice and those who wanted chaos and destruction.”

Egypt’s political figurehead Mohamed el-Baradei is back. Or is he?


Following three years of silence, Mohamed el-Baradei gave a lengthy TV interview to the London-based channel al-Araby. As the first part of five was aired, so were several of Baradei’s tapped calls on the Egyptian satellite channel Sada al-Balad.

Shortly after, calls for Baradei to be stripped of his Egyptian citizenship echoed across parliament and social media citing the leaked calls in which it is alleged he “insults the army” and should therefore be considered a “traitor.”

Baradei mattered for a number of reasons, but these for the majority of Egyptians – both supporters and detractors – do not include being the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the former vice president of Egypt, or an internationally acclaimed academic, but rather his major role in paving the way for the January 2011 Revolution and his emergence ever since as a national icon.

The interview and its ramifications not only proved that Baradei still matters, but also raised a number of questions about the purpose and impact of his return, if it can be called so.

Journalist Mai Azzam argues that Baradei might be planning to run in the upcoming presidential elections and sees the interview as the possible beginning of an electoral campaign. “In the interview, Baradei implicitly demonstrated his disagreement with the current regime by appearing on a Qatari-funded channel considered in Egypt to be relatively sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood and expressed a view on Syria that is more in line with Saudi Arabia than Egypt,” she wrote. “At the same time, he presented himself as wiser than previous presidents especially Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat who made wrong decisions that harmed the country.”

For Azzam, Baradei appeared as a politician whose expertise and academic background enable him to take diplomatic positions that seem much needed at the moment. “He criticizes Camp David and supports the Palestinian cause while stressing the importance of peace in the region and not being hostile to Israel; he has no issues with Qatar and supports the Saudi Arabian stance on Syria,” she explained. “And he says nothing that might be of concern to the United States.”

If this is the case, Azzam said that airing Baradei’s tapped calls is not in the best interest of the current regime since it shows that it does not tolerate any opposition. “The wiretaps, which are produced by security institutions and aired by media professionals known for their loyalty to the current regime, portray the regime as fragile, which serves Baradei if he really intends to run.”

Journalist Hayat al-Yamani argues that the only way Baradei’s interview can make a change is if he acknowledges his responsibility in the violent dispersal of the Rabaa al-Awadiya sit-in, staged by Islamists following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood. “A direct apology for that is the only way this interview would be meaningful,” she wrote. “And since only the first part of the interview was aired, this remains to be seen.” Yamani, who considers Baradei “the icon of a revolution who was the first to let down,” does not expect Baradei to emerge victorious following this interview regardless of its real purposes.

“Unfortunately, everyone watching the interview will remember a promise he did not keep or an action he did not take. It’s not that Egyptians hate him, but rather that he never really liked them, being the ‘hypocritical,’ ‘trashy’ and ‘backward’ people they are,” she added, in reference to words Baradei used in his phone calls to describe several revolutionaries and public figures. Yamani, however, stressed that the leaks are only a proof of how the state is afraid of the interview. “The question is: will they find enough wiretapped calls to cover the coming four parts of the interview?”

While admitting that wiretapping Baradei’s calls without the proper warrant is illegal, constitutional expert Shawki al-Sayed refuted claims that the Egyptian regime is afraid of Baradei’s appearance. “Baradei’s appearance after all this silence is indeed suspicious and I believe he is taking advantage of the problems through which Egypt is going in order to manipulate the public,” he wrote. “The regime could be upset because Baradei’s intentions are obviously not good, especially that his views are against the Egyptian state.”

According to journalist Ahmed Nada, the concurrent airing of the interview and the leaks revealed two faces of Baradei.

“In the phone calls, he was being himself and was openly criticizing everyone he believed obstructed the revolution while in the interview he is the diplomat who calculates every word he utters,” he wrote.

“The two undoubtedly brought Baradei back to the limelight and provided an excellent opportunity for his supporters to reiterate, sometimes in an exaggerated manner, how wise he is.” For Nada, both Baradei and his supporters seem to be “outside of history,” since they were not able to learn from their mistakes. “If they insist on the same elitist discourse used extensively in 2010 and 2011, everything they say will seem cliché and irrational,” he explained. “Baradei is the man of bad timing and long silences.”

US Congress, Coptic churches and the future American-Egyptian relations


The Coptic Churches Accountability Act, recently submitted by Republican representative David A. Trott, has requested “the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress regarding efforts to restore or repair Christian property in the Arab Republic of Egypt that was burned, damaged, or otherwise destroyed during the sectarian violence in August 2013, and for other purposes.”

The bill, currently referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, was strongly repudiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which considered the bill a flagrant violation of Egypt’s sovereignty and argued that only national entities stated in the Egyptian constitution have the right to supervise any work carried out by the executive power.

“The bill also includes false information,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid in a statement. “Egypt did not witness sectarian strife, but was subjected to terrorist attacks committed by an outlawed group,” he added, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, whose members are accused of attacking and burning down churches following the dispersal of Islamist sit-ins that called for the return of ousted president Mohamed Morsi. The reaction of the Coptic Orthodox Church was not different.

“The Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church rejects the Congress bill on the restoration of churches and declares that the Egyptian government has done its duty in this regard,” said the church statement. “National unity comes first and we will never accept any interference.” The categorical rejection of the bill on the official level does not, however, diminish the significance of the bill and the way it is expected to affect relations with the US.

Father Rafik Greish, spokesman of the Egyptian Catholic Church, said the bill is an attempt to ruin the relationship between Egypt and the new American administration. “Donald Trump praised on several occasions the efforts exerted by the Egyptian president to combat terrorism and this apparently angered some people,” he said.

“We have to bear in mind that many members of the Republican Party do not support the Egyptian regime and this was very obvious after the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Greish added that 90 percent of churches destroyed in 2013 were renovated or rebuilt and expressed his surprise that the United States is not aware of that.

“The US has eyes everywhere and they can easily know what’s happening on the ground in Egypt.” Journalist Abdel Nabi al-Shahat had the same view and argued that the bill is part of a plan by Obama’s administration to put as many obstacles as possible in Trump’s way. “Trump and Egypt see eye to eye when it comes to combating terrorism, while Obama totally overlooks the terrorist actions committed by the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the destruction of churches,” he wrote.

US Democratic Party Member Mahdi Afifi disagreed that the bill reflects the intentions of the current administration towards the upcoming one or that the entire Congress is interfering in Egypt’s affairs as critics of the bill believed. “When a member of Congress submits a bill, this does not mean he is representing American interests.

“It just means that he is catering to the needs of a specific group of voters or lobby group or tackling an issue that he personally believes is important, so if he believes Copts are persecuted in Egypt he can simply submit such a bill,” he said, adding that any congressman in the United States can propose any bill and then the Congress can pass it or not based on votes.

“This applies to both local and international issues. In fact, 50 percent of proposed bills are about other countries and that is very clear in the case of Cuba.” Afifi said that Coptic groups in the US might have lobbied for the submission of the bill because they believe Copts in Egypt are persecuted. “If this is true, there would be few of them because most Copts in the US support the Egyptian regime,” he said.

“Islamist organizations that pledge allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood might have lobbied too, but they operate legally in the US so there is nothing to be done about them.” Journalist Naeim Youssef also refuted claims that the bill proves that the Obama administration is placing obstacles in Trump’s way or attacking Egypt: “Obama is Democratic and the congressman who submitted the bill is Republican,” he wrote.

Coptic US-based activist Magdi Khalil said that the Coptic Solidarity Organization lobbied for the submission of the bill. “The organization lobbied for two laws: the first was the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group and the second on the supervision of church restoration in Egypt,” he said. According to Khalil, the organization submitted the second bill in response to the state’s failure in issuing a fair law on the construction of churches.

“Many Copts inside and outside Egypt object to the current law, which still makes it difficult to construct churches and most of the requests to build churches after the law were rejected,” he explained, adding that he is surprised that while the state and the Coptic Church supported the first bill they reject the second even though both were submitted by the same organization. Khalil added that it is easy to manipulate Egyptian Copts and use them as a tool for pressure and that congressmen who submit such bills are usually after political gains.

“For example, one of the congressmen who support the accountability act asked Coptic Solidarity to thank him on the organization’s website so that his voters would know that he supports religious freedom.”

Egypt’s diplomacy fix: Walking the Israel-Trump-Palestine tightrope


Last week, Egypt submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution that condemns the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But following a call Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received from US President Elect Donald Trump, Egypt withdrew the resolution. Four other countries—New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, and Venezuela—submitted the resolution again and it was approved by the majority of Security Council members.

The United States abstained yet, contrary to what was expected and to what usually happens, did not veto the resolution. Egyptian diplomacy instantly came under fire as accusations of its subordination to the upcoming US administration and Israel started coming through and many tried to understand the logic behind such a move.

Israel had asked President-elect Donald Trump to apply pressure to avert United Nations approval of a resolution demanding an end to settlement building, an official said. (AFP)

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Egypt, as the only Arab non-permanent member of the Security Council, submitted the draft resolution yet had concerns about the reaction of permanent members. “In an unprecedented move, the future US administration announced its rejection of the resolution and called upon the current administration to veto it,” he said.

“The situation got confusing and Egypt was uncertain whether the current administration would listen to the future one and that is why Egypt called for postponing the vote until things become clear.” Abu Zeid added that as a major mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Egypt had to be extremely careful in its following step. “Withdrawing the resolution was only a procedural step that does not change Egypt’s position on Palestine and in all cases the resolution was passed while Egypt managed to strike that delicate balance between its stance on Palestine and its relation with the future American administration.”

Former Deputy Foreign Minister Sayed Qassem al-Masri said that Egypt lost a lot upon withdrawing the draft resolution. “Egypt led the negotiations that preceded the resolution then drafted it and it is originally Egypt’s initiative. Then all this effort went down the drain when the resolution was withdrawn and Egypt wasted the chance to be the country behind the passing of such a historic resolution,” he wrote. “Think of the credit Egypt would have taken in the Arab and Muslim world and think how unsettling the resolution was for Israel.” Masri added that withdrawing the resolution means that Egypt succumbed to pressure from the United States and, consequently, Israel. “Netanyahu was shocked to know that the US would not veto the resolution so he called Trump to put pressure on Egypt so that Israel can buy time until Trump assumes office and uses the veto. Egypt just complied.”

A Palestinian man rides a donkey near the Israeli settlement of Maale Edumim, in the occupied West Bank, December 28, 2016. (Reuters)

Journalist Hossam al-Hindi said that Egypt’s decision to withdraw the resolution is the culmination if a series of steps that underline the recent rapprochement between Egypt and Israel whose ties are expected to become even stronger after Donald Trump, known for his support for Israel, comes to power.

“The Egyptian delegation drafted the resolution and garnered support for it from several non-permanent members and only two days after the resolution was submitted it was withdrawn without even consulting the other members,” he wrote. Hindi argued that it was only when news that the Obama administration will not use the veto that Netanyahu and Trump had to convince Egypt to change its position. “This is not the first time Egypt supports Israel internationally for in September 2015, Egypt voted for Israel’s membership at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which Israel considered a diplomatic victory.”

Hindi called Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri “the orchestrator of normalization with Israel,” and cited his visit to Jerusalem, his reservation on calling Israel a “terrorist state,” and his presence at the funeral of Shimon Perez to indicate the new tendency of Egyptian diplomacy.

Expert in Middle Eastern affairs Feras Abu Hilal said that the Egyptian regime failed to read the political situation properly when it was certain that the US will veto the resolution: “Egypt could not predict that Obama would want to take an expected move that would later be part of his legacy especially in the light of his tense relations with Netanyahu,” he wrote, adding that not submitting the resolution at all would have been much better for Egyptian diplomacy than submitting then withdrawing it.

“It is also extremely embarrassing for Egypt that countries from outside the Arab world such as Venezuela and New Zealand would support the resolution while Egypt, commonly known as the Arab’s ‘big sister’ would withdraw it.” Abu Hilal argued that the resolution itself is not significant since Israel never respects UN resolutions anyway, but the problem with this particular resolution is the way Egypt let down Palestine and the Arabs.

Professor of political science Khalil al-Enani argued that it is the Egyptian regime rather than Egyptian diplomacy that is to blame for the withdrawal of the draft resolution. “Members of the Egyptian delegation were smart enough to read the current relationship between Obama and Israel and to know that the former will not use the veto against the resolution in order to deal two blows before leaving: one to Netanyahu and another to Trump who would have definitely used the veto had he been in power at the time of the voting,” he wrote.

Enani argued that the withdrawal of the resolution was a unilateral decision on the part of the Egyptian president who wanted to establish strong ties with the Trump administration and avoid antagonizing Israel, hence ordered his foreign minister to withdraw the resolution. “This placed the Egyptian diplomacy is an extremely embarrassing and humiliating position on both the regional and international levels.”

Meanwhile, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Egypt’s action was justified since it was concerned that the resolution will not be passed. “It was a matter of timing and that is why Egypt wanted to wait until making sure the resolution will not be obstructed by a veto and when it did it voted for the resolution,” he said.

“At the same time, Egypt managed to deal diplomatically with the upcoming American administration.” Erekat denied allegations that Egypt let the Palestinians down and said that had it not been for Egypt, the resolution would not have into being at all. “We and the Egyptians are one team and we thank Egyptian diplomacy for this effort.”