CAIRO, Jan 25, (Agencies): Egypt’s president said Tuesday he was alarmed by his country’s high divorce rate, suggesting a ground-breaking legislation to delegalize divorces verbally declared by Muslim men to their spouses, the latest foray by the general-turned-president into thorny social and cultural issues in the most populous Arab nation.
In a televised address during a ceremony marking Police Day, President Abdel-Fatteh el- Sisi said he has recently learned from the head of the state Statistics Bureau that about 40 percent of Egypt’s 900,000 annual marriages end in divorce after five years. Turning to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s supreme seat of religious learning in Cairo, he suggested that the legislation should be adopted so a divorce would be legal only if it is done in the presence of a “maazoun,” a cleric authorized by the government to officiate marriage and divorce.
Some couples already do that, but many Muslim husbands also divorce verbally — often in the heat of an argument — before later documenting the divorce. “Why cannot we, as a state concerned with the safeguarding of society … issue a law that only legalizes divorce when done in the presence of a Maazoun so we can give the couple a chance to reconsider?” said el-Sisi. “It cannot be just a word that is casually uttered,” he said, adding that the proposed law would protect children and prevent what he called “inappropriate behavior.” He did not elaborate. El-Sisi is a devout Muslim who grew up in the medieval part of Islamic Cairo, a spiritual quarter with a large number of historical mosques and shrines.
In office since June 2014, his addresses have consistently been peppered with Quranic verses or mentions of God. He has been increasingly assuming a place akin to being “father of the nation” as his government shows less and less tolerance for dissent.
Since he led the military’s 2013 ouster of his predecessor — the Islamist Mohammed Morsi — he has overseen the arrest of thousands, mostly Islamists but including hundreds of secular activists too.
Outspoken critics of his government in the media have been removed and a clampdown on civil society is in full swing, with travel bans, freezing of assets or intimidating rights groups. However, his suggestion to delegalize the centuries-old verbal divorce widely seen in conservative and patriarchal Egypt as a male prerogative is a bold reformist move, but also one likely to spark a backlash from conservative clerics and harsh condemnation by militants. “What do you think, your eminence, the imam?” el-Sisi said with a smile to al-Azhar’s grand imam, sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, who was present at the ceremony, thus acknowledging that he needs the backing of al-Azhar if the proposed legislation is to be adopted.
El-Sisi said on Wednesday that Egypt was “on the right track” six years after the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Speaking in a televised address commemorating the revolution, Sisi called on young activists who took part in mass protests in 2011 to work for the country’s future. “An objective assessment of developments in Egypt in recent years makes clear that we are moving on the right track,” Sisi said.