Communal identity, political Islam and family law: Copts and the debate over the grounds for dissolution of marriage in twentieth-century Egypt

Ron Shaham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

This article follows the debate over the legal grounds for dissolution of marriage within the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox community during the twentieth century, situating this debate in broader religious, political, social and legal perspectives. In 1999, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Shenouda III (r. 1971-) promoted a new draft of unified personal status law for Christians, which considerably limited the grounds for dissolution of marriage. He justified the new draft by claiming that the grounds included in the 1938 Coptic Orthodox personal status code were not supported by Christian scriptures and were adopted by Coptic Orthodox lay leaders of the time, who were inspired by Islamic reformist legislation, to suit their desires and lust. I argue that the 1938 Code was not innovative and that it relied on medieval Coptic Orthodox legal treatises. Patriarch Shenouda's restrictive interpretation of the grounds for divorce was motivated by his desire to invigorate communal identity and cohesion in the face of the strengthening of political Islam in Egypt. More generally, this article demonstrates how legal means and policies are used in the contexts of intracommunal and inter-communal struggles.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)409-422
Number of pages14
JournalIslam and Christian-Muslim Relations
Volume21
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 2010

Keywords

  • Copts
  • Egypt
  • Family law
  • Grounds for divorce
  • Political islam

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