In Egypt, women cannot inherit property equally with men. Muslim law forbids it. But one woman challenged the law, citing religion as the basis for her appeal.
In 2018, Huda Nasrallah’s father died. He left behind an apartment building in Cairo and a bank deposit. Nasrallah and her two brothers filed an inheritance request at a local court. She asked for an equal share of the property.
Egypt is a mainly Muslim country. Islamic laws favor male heirs. But Nasrallah is not Muslim. She is one of Egypt’s estimated 10 million Coptic Christians. Living in a mainly Muslim society, Coptic Christians are considered heretics. (The term “Christian” here can be confusing. Because of its Catholic roots, Coptic Christianity emphasizes obedience and ritual instead of salvation by God’s unearned grace in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But Coptics consider the Bible to be God's holy word.)
Egypt’s legal system grants the Coptic church full authority over many personal matters, like marriage. But that authority does not apply to inheritance. Nasrallah, a lawyer, believes this is a double standard.
Nasrallah’s brothers told the court that they would like the inheritance divided fairly among the three siblings. This is unusual. Many Coptic men enjoy benefiting from the Islamic laws, Nasrallah says. Those men use the excuse that the law is “out of their hands.”
Egyptian judges twice ignored the brothers’ testimony. Nasrallah cannot inherit, they said.
“It is not really about inheritance,” says Nasrallah. “My father did not leave us millions.” But she believes she has “the right to ask to be treated equally.”
Last year, the Tunisian government proposed a bill for equal inheritance rights. After that, many Arab countries began calling for those same rights.
There’s been backlash among Muslims. Most see the bill as violating Islamic law—and weakening Muslim societies.
Nasrallah appealed to a higher Egyptian court, citing a Coptic ruling that calls for equal male-female inheritance. She prepared her case around the biblical teaching that all heirs should receive equal shares—no matter their genders. (Numbers 27)
Girgis Bebawy, a Coptic lawyer, has represented dozens of Copts in similar cases. Prior to Nasrallah's case, he had yet to win one.
In late November, the Egyptian court returned a landmark decision. Nasrallah will inherit equally with her brothers. She hopes her case sets a precedent for others, saying, “If I didn’t take it to court, who would?”