Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

Clerics reject proposal to change divorce laws

THE top Islamic authority in Egypt, which must be consulted on all constitutional matters, has unanimously rejected a proposed reform to end Muslim men's ability to divorce their wives without going through a court of law.

The Council of Senior Clerics in Al-Azhar, the highest authority in Sunni Islam, rejected President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi's suggestion that Egypt should end the practice in a rare rebuttal of the goverment.

While the Egyptian constitution guarantees both genders face equal treatment before the law, contradictory personal status legislation means that women are still severely discriminated against in courtrooms and Egyptian society more generally.

Under the current law, Muslim men can divorce their wives without having to resort to legal justification or consult a court or cleric. Muslim women can only seek divorces in a court of law and with the consent of their husband, which in practice makes it very difficult to obtain.The council said that the practice has been "undisputed” since the 7th century, and men who are not of "sound mind” cannot divorce their wives.

Mr Sisi, himself devoutly Muslim, has repeatedly suggested that religious discourse in his country be moderated in order to counter extremism. The Associated Press reports that he recently instructed authorities to standardise Friday sermons in mosques across Egypt, a move which was viewed by critics as further curtailing freedom of speech.