Jasmin Moussa


This thesis examines the compatibility of Shari'a-derived personal status laws in Egypt with the international legal obligation to eliminate gender discrimination (specifically in the area of family relations). In Egypt, the Shari'a-derived personal status law for Sunni Muslims governs family relations, including marriage, divorce, child custody and successions, and have been frequently criticized for discriminating against women. However, this body of law is not immutable, it has proven flexible over the centuries, and has accommodated many changes in society.

As such, an important question is: are Egypt's personal status laws reconcilable with its international obligations? If not, how can they be reformed? What is the role of the government in this regard? In societies that apply Shari'a-derived personal status legislation conservatives have often considered universal human rights standards to be an alien imposition, inapplicable to 'Muslim culture'. The tension between proponents of universality and advocates of cultural relativism has politicized the debate on personal status law reform.

The obstacles to personal status law reform in Egypt are complex, and include a conservative judiciary, the relatively weak impact of women's organizations, the religious and ideological resistance to women's equality rights and negative social stigmas. However, there are also some positive indications that may pave the way for more extensive domestically-inspired reforms in the future. These reform tools are propagated by a small, but growing local constituency that has taken advantage of the limited effect of international enforcement mechanisms to push for further reforms.

Although the situation of women in Egypt is far from satisfactory, particularly in the area of family relations, with a comprehensive and well-informed law-reform strategy, there can be much hope for the future.


School of Humanities and Social Sciences


Political Science Department

Degree Name

MA in Political Science

Date of Award


Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Nathalie Bernard-Maugiron

Committee Member 1

Amr Shalakany

Committee Member 2

Nazkhatoun Modirzadeh

Document Type



273 leaves

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Sex discrimination

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Status (Law)


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Approval has been obtained for this item

Call Number

Thesis 2005/31