Egyptian woman wins right to equal inheritance

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Inheritance news this week included a story about a Coptic Christian woman in Egypt who won a legal battle to receive the same inheritance from her father as her brothers did.

Huda Nasrallah brought the case to test the legality of the statute in the country. Egypt relies mainly on the Muslim Sharia law, where female heirs can only inherit half that of their male relatives. Nasrallah, a human rights lawyer, made her case arguing that Christian doctrine supported equal inheritance.

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Prior to this week’s ruling, her case had been dismissed by two other courts based on Sharia law.

The Coptic Orthodox Church is the main Christian church in Egypt. It is believed to date back to 50AD when the Apostle Mark is said to have visited Egypt and established himself as the first Pope of Alexandria. There are thought to be about 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt, although there are also churches in the US and a cathedral in the UK (the Cathedral of St George in London).

Inheritance laws left to the state

While the Coptic Church is the main authority on its followers’ marriages and divorces, inheritance laws are left to the state.

Legal experts believe the case may set a precedent because Sharia law has previously been used in personal status law even if individuals believe in a different religion.

Nasrallah’s efforts to receive equal inheritance were supported by her brothers. In a quote, she said the case had not really been about the inheritance as her father had not left his family millions of Egyptian pounds. She had pursued the case because she wanted to be treated equally with her brothers.

Ishak Ibrahim, a rights activist said the law assumes that if Christian inheritance beneficiaries agreed to apply Christian laws to the distribution of an estate, then it would be divided equally. If they disagreed, however, Sharia law would be applied.

Several Arab countries have experienced inheritance issues after a proposed bill in Tunisia last year which would allow for equality.

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