Did Egypt's justice minister just violate the constitution?

Friday 11-12-2015 07:01 PM
Did Egypt's justice minister just violate the constitution?

Judge Ahmad al-Zind, head of Egypt Judge Club


By Omnia Talal

Cairo, Dec. 11 (Aswat Masriya) - Lawyer Taher Abu al-Nasr filed an appeal to Egypt’s administrative court on Thursday against Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind’s decree requiring foreign men to pay EGP 50,000 in investment certificates at the National Bank of Egypt if they wish to marry younger Egyptian women.

This decree No. 9200 for the year 2015 stated that these documents be completed and submitted to a documentation office if the Egyptian bride is 25 or more years younger than the foreign man.

Abu al-Nasr told Aswat Masriya that the minister of justice’s decision conflicts with article 10 of the Egyptian constitution. He added that this law establishes the crime of human trafficking, whereby marriage is a financial transaction, rather than a religious ritual guided by human values and morality.

Article 10 of the constitution says that “the family is the basis of society,” and is “founded on religion, morality and patriotism, and the state is keen to maintain its cohesion, stability and the consolidation of values."

Abu al-Nasr said that he was able to appeal this decree because it was published in the official gazette, and can thus be appealed within 60 days. “If the appeal is accepted, [one] the law can be reviewed,” he added, noting with regret that decree 103 of 1976 gives the minister of justice the right to waive any condition in officiating the marriage.   

Article five of documentation law No. 103 for the year 1976 states that before documentation, the families of the married couple must prove that the couple is content and satisfied. If the marriage contract is between a foreign man and an Egyptian woman, the age difference between them must not exceed 25 years, but based on the minister’s recent decision, these conditions can now be waived when documenting the marriage contracts.   

Exceptional Cases  

The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights said Thursday that since 1976, the documentation law prohibited marriages where the age difference between the foreign man and the Egyptian woman exceeded 25 years, according to section 2 of Article 5, law No. 103 /1976. Exceptional cases had to get approval from the minister of justice.

“In 1992, under the pressure of political Islam on the minister of justice at the time, the exceptions became a general rule and one of the requirements was that investment certificates with periodic return rates worth EGP 25,000 be submitted to the National Bank of Egypt in the name of the Egyptian wife,” the center said.

“In 2004, a discussion was reopened around the issue, and instead of cancelling the exception and banning such marriages altogether, the amount was increased to EGP 40,000,” the center added.

According to the center, this means that the minister’s current decision makes the exception the rule and only raises the value of the certificates from EGP 40,000 to EGP 50,000, defeating the purpose of having the law in the first place, which is to protect women.

Tightening Sanctions

The center called for standing against all forms of trafficking of women, with the cooperation of the police. It called on police to increase their work against gangs that trade in what are called “touristic marriages.”

The center also called for a tightening of penalties agaisnt these gangs and networks, which may include even the family members of the girls.

Nehad Abu al-Qumsan, the president of the center, assured that there is an ongoing discussion with civil society members specialized in such cases, and that they want to activate a “women’s rights committee” that was formed by the minister of justice.

Hamdy Abdel Tawab, a member of the media committee at the Ministry of Justice, said that the minister’s decision was made in light of the spread of the phenomenon of younger Egyptian women marrying foreign men, who are 25 or more years older than them.

Abdel Tawab also told Aswat Masriya that the ministry cannot break the law, or go against the constitution but that it wanted to limit the phenomenon, hence the amendments to the law. In the minister's defence, he added that the age difference was also decreased to 25 years, instead of the original 30-year difference.

The decree will also be reviewed by parliament, Abdel Tawab said, emphasizing that the law intended to “protect women and guarantee their rights.”

Legitimizing the sale of women

Lawyer Ahmed Abul Magd, head of the “Our Rights” association for human rights, said that the decision “is an attempt to protect the wife, but adds to the legitimization of the selling of women to foreigners, and touristic marriage.”

Abul Magd also believes that EGP 50,000 is not enough to protect the wife from temporary marriages, or divorce, or the abandonment of the husband or his decision not to recognize the children born from such marriages. In many cases, the woman bears the responsibility of the children alone and faces difficulty in registering them.

Abul Magd added that most of these marriages take place under pressure from the families against the will of the woman. The law does not solve this, he said.

Lawyer Rabab Abdu, vice president of the Egyptian Society to Support Juveniles and Human Rights, said that the minister’s decision to “put a price tag on touristic marriages” flies in the face of efforts to combat human trafficking.  

“The decision proves that the ministry of justice is completely unaware of the state’s efforts to fight these touristic marriages that have become one of the most dangerous phenomena threatening the safety of Egypt’s women,” she told Aswat Masriya.

She also warned against the continuation of these "summer marriages" that exploit younger women. "Now these women can marry these men, who are decades older, only on condition that the men can afford the price. This takes place in a legal setting, with the blessing of the ministry of justice."

She described the decision as a “misguided attempt” by the minister to solve the problem of wealthy Gulf Arabs marrying Egyptian women while they are in Egypt.

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