Legal Hell: The Egyptian Law is not necessarily on Women’s Side

The idea of institutionalizing the safeguarding of human rights by devising mandates in the form of a constitution stipulating the entitlements of each citizen, resonates with the concept of Thomas Hobbes. The great thinker Hobbes was a strong believer that humans have an inherent tendency towards evil rather than good, and for that reason in particular, the societal inhabitants have to be protected by a coercive security body for the overall mass protection whether this is government or constitutions, as Jacques Rousseau likewise argued.  

However, the Egyptian rule of law is still institutionalizing misogyny by favouring men at the expense of women in terms of the legal punishment of crimes like adultery, prostitution and honour crimes, while it remains mute about other crimes like the domestic violence and marital rape. Also, its sanctions are mediocre in terms of female genital mutilation and sexual harassment, which question the legislative authority seriousness about the deep sanctioning of misogynistic behaviours in our society.

It’s then, high time to increase the public awareness of those misogynistic laws in the month of November which marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25th, besides the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.

In the Egyptian law, Crimes against women in Egypt are either misdemeanors or felonies. Misdemeanors, such as sexual harassment are seen as less significant crimes than felonies, and are usually punished by fines and short-term jail time, while felonies, like FGM, rape, and sexual assault are punished with longer jail time, and a permanent record is placed for those convicted.

FGM: A decent sanction that does not equate to the act’s brutality

Although fresh breezes of air were introduced in 2015 when the father of the late mutilated Soheir Al-Batea,13, was sentenced to 3 months in prison, alongside the doctor who performed her “feminine manslaughter” serving 2 years in prison with a fine of 500, yet it has to be acknowledged that this verdict did not prohibit other fathers and doctors from performing FGM, especially after the death of “Mayar Moussa”,17, in a private hospital in Suez  governorate because of heavy bleeding, during an illegal operation of FGM in May 2016. Such incidents doubt the seriousness of the government in combating the epidemic because the brutality of the action is not equated with the mediocre verdict.

In 2016, the Egyptian People’s Assembly approved amendment of article 242 (bis) of the Penal Code. The amendment classifies FGM as a crime not a misdemeanour, and Practitioners could receive up to 15 years in jail if a victim dies, while anyone who accompanies girls to be cut could face between one and three years in prison. But there are doubts concerning the enforcement of the new law and whether it will lead to the apprehension of those who commit FGM, especially in light of the lack of state-based monitoring combined with the application of existing laws.

Adultery laws: Penalties differ according to Gender

One of the most awkward and misogynistic articles stipulated in the Egyptian penal code, Article 277, which states that the man is punished only if he commits adultery in the marital home, so that the sanction will become null and void if the man committed adultery in another home or hotel or any other place.

On the other side, if a woman commits adultery in or outside of the home of the married couple, under Article 274 of the penal code she can be punished by up to two years in prison. However, if a man commits adultery within the marital home, he is only punishable by up to six months in prison.

Moreover, the Egyptian collective unconsciousness is recognized to consider a woman as a sign of honour saving herself for marriage, and in that respect, criminal penalties addressing honour are situated based on each judge’s verdict. For instance, Article 17 of the Egyptian Penal code allows judges to decrease the sentences given in the case of honour crime when they decide that the condition of the murderer requires so, leading to lowering the sentence as an act of clemency.

It should be noted that the Article 17 states that “In felony counts, if the conditions of the crime for which public prosecution is initiated necessitate clemency on the part of the judges, the penalty may be changed.”

Sexual Assault: the definition of rape is obscure and outdated

Although there have been sincere endeavours in combating the endemic of sexual harassment by fining the harasser up to 5,000 pounds as a fine and serving 6 months in prison, yet still the issue of rape is not appropriately addressed in the legal context. For example, articles of 267, 268, 269 and 289 relating to crimes of rape, sexual assault in the Penal Code are currently deficient in nature and do not address rape clearly, sufficing rape as the penile penetration of the vagina ignoring rape by fingers, tools or sharp objects, oral or anal rape, which are considered in Article 268 as only “indecent violation”. Most mob harassers use this loophole to escape imprisonment due to such insufficient scope of the definition.

Much worse, under Article 17 of the penal code, the judge has the authority to reduce the sentence of the accused man in a rape case by two degrees, so if a man is convicted of raping a woman and faces a life imprisonment, the judge has the ability to reduce it to simple imprisonment, and the imprisonment can be reduced to three months in prison.

Marital Rape is not considered legally: Are wives the property of husbands?

According to the Egyptian law, non-spousal rape is criminalized, but there is no punishment for marital rape.

The Nobel award winner Bertrand Russell once exclaimed that, “the total amount of undesired sex endured by women is probably greater in marriage than in prostitution”. In the Middle East, religious leaders justify the misogynist act while sadistic husband and women self-defeating behaviours serve as the seedbed for rape. Till this day, the Egyptian parliament and the current constitution remain tight-lipped about the issue of marital rape, which is considered a crime in the developed world for abusing women mentally, emotionally and physically.

In the 17th century, in UK, Sir Mathew Hale argued against marital rape, suggesting that the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife. However, with the outbreak of the feminist movements in the 1960s, there started to be a global awareness about rape within the context of marriage as an effect of inequality between partners. Thus, in 1993, the UN High Commission for Human Rights published a paper on the elimination of violence against women, stipulating marital rape as a woman’s right violation, because it contradicts with rights of self-determination and physical integrity. Nevertheless, Egypt still lives in the medieval era in the prospect of considering a woman’s body as a full entitlement and personal possession of her husband regardless of the ensuing physical injuries to the female vagina, let alone the ingrained feeling that her bodily integrity was violated.

Dina Ayman

A Researcher and Writer at Wlaha Wogoh Okhra

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