The question of wife-beating continues to rear its ugly, battered head in 2022 Egypt
One of the main social issues that has preoccupied the Egyptian psyche in the first two months of 2022 has been whether its okay to assault your wife.
Women’s rights advocates have been outraged at the subject re-emerging by talk show host Amr Adeeb, but is nonetheless proof that, for some Egyptians, the question of violence trumps the provision of equal opportunities, empowerment and rights.
"Based on the statistics of the National Council for Women, about eight million women are at risk of domestic violence annually, with up to 86% of wives may face different forms of spousal abuse"
In his show, El-Helaya, broadcast on MBC Misr satellite TV channel, Adeeb - known for being loyal to the regime of president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi - reminded his viewers of earlier statements by Al-Azhar Grand Imam Ahmed El-Tayeb on Surat El-Nisaa (Women) about the provision of punishment for a wife deemed “nashez” in Arabic (arrogant).
Not only has Adeeb waged a war of words with the Al-Azhar Sheikh, revered as the head of the most esteemed Sunni institution in the Muslim world, but has also opened the door for a new round of criticism against him, with the Grand Imam already known for being at odds with Sisi since his assumed the position of Egypt head of state.
To beat her or not?
In May 2019, Grand Imam El-Tayeb said in an interview on national TV that, that “Islam doesn’t accept that a human that beats up another.”
“We need to understand the kind of hitting that is permissible [in Islam] only in limited cases, one being the remedy of an abrupt [problem]…other than the [kind] that we imagine that people misinterpret as men behaving their wives,” El-Tayeb added.
"[Violence against women] violates the constitution which stipulates that the state is committed to protect their rights, criminalising all kinds of discrimination"
Nevertheless, he said: “We can call it as a symbol of hurting the pride of a woman…’noshouz’ in the [Quranic verse] means arrogance. If the beating up [lightly] here breaks up that [attitude], no sane person would say no to using it or else she will go too far.”
The Al-Azhar Grand Imam further argued that “all the demands for total and unrestricted [gender] equality between men and women” have [wreaked havoc] on the family.”
“This is not a justification for beating. It is not ordered [by God]. Neither is it a Sunnah [followed by Muslim Prophet Mohammed]. It is only permissible in the case that he [the husband] finds it the only way to face the wife’s [arrogant attitude],” he said.
The English translation of the verse in question states: “As to those women on whose part ye fear arrogance, admonish them [first], [Next], refuse to share their beds, [and last] beat them [lightly].”
However, in Quran, no verse has advocated for men to hit their wives aggressively or cause them psychological or physical harm.
A heated debate
For context, the debate that dominated Adeeb's particular show was about domestic violence not being penalised by the Egyptian penal code, which dictates that “any act undertaken with good intention and based on the Islamic Sharia law is unpunishable by law.”
For Adeeb, in case El-Tayeb’s words were taken for granted, husbands would get away with physically assaulting their wives as conservative Egyptian men tend to follow Islamic scholars rather than lawyers.
“There is no good intention in a husband hitting his wife,” head of the state-run National Council for Women Maya Morsi argued, criticising El-Tayeb over his previous comments, even though both were previously on good terms previously.
“[Violence against women] violates the constitution which stipulates that the state is committed to protect their rights, criminalising all kinds of discrimination,” she told Adeeb in a phone interview on the 31 January episode.
“What do they mean by disciplining a wife? Hasn’t she come from a home where there are parents who raised her up and taught her right from wrong?” Morsi wondered.
“No man has the right to beat up his wife. Prophet Mohamed himself, whom we follow as a role model, never hit any of his wives or daughters,” she added.
In his defence, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Azhar, the official magazine of Azhar, wrote an op-ed run on 2 February, addressing Morsi, writing that institution is neither a legislative nor an executive body. “Neither has it any authority over the parliament,” Sawy wrote.
Prominent political sociologist Said Sadek believes “the sparked debate is nothing but a new round of the continuing campaign against El-Tayeb.”
"El-Tayeb does not sing the same tune of the government about all issues. That’s all. In a nutshell, women are a favourite topic in Egyptian media for distraction, causing heated discussion; and a combination of the two is always a winner in social media and a distraction from other issues,” Sadek told The New Arab.
As the debate went on, Egyptian MP Amal Salama proposed a law amendment that toughens up the legal penalty against men beating up their wives to reach up to five years in prison.
“The law had been already proposed during the previous parliamentary round and presented for community dialogue but it hadn’t been approved by the parliament back then…and now we have put it forward before the media for further discussion,” Salama told The New Arab.
“There must be a law that criminalises all forms of domestic violence in the country,” she added.
“The absence of legislation that grants women their rights led [some] women to eventually get violent…like the cases that occurred recently when some women killed their husbands,” Salama explained.
The legal penalty in the proposed law proposes criminalising extreme beating, defined as that that would cause a woman to be hospitalised and unable to function for 20 days physically.
Based on the statistics of the National Council for Women, about eight million women are at risk of domestic violence annually, with up to 86% of wives may face different forms of spousal abuse.
Thaer Mansour is a journalist based in Cairo, reporting for The New Arab on politics, culture and social affairs from the Egyptian capital