Jane Doe is a very powerful Egyptian businesswoman who came from a world of wealth and privilege. Not only was she married to Egyptian parliament member and tycoon John Doe, the Harvard graduate also manages a multi-billion dollar financial empire she inherited from her late father. Her outstanding performance and success landed her an elite spot on Forbes list of the most rich and powerful women in the Middle East.
Now imagine this; a limousine pulls up in front of the VIP entrance of Cairo Airport. The Egyptian Jane Doe steps out with her briefcase. Her private jet is waiting to fly her to Paris and her dream of purchasing a telecom business would soon become true. Nothing was standing between her and her new company anymore —— except the passport control officer. After a quick look at her passport followed by punching few keys on the keyboard, the officer apologized to her that she can’t proceed with her travel plans. Her husband had issued a ban on her travel. Earlier that week, Jane Doe had a little dispute with her husband who used one of the powers granted to him by society to punish her.
It saddens me that even though the story above was fictitious, the scenario is real. It happens often to women in Egypt who are still not allowed to have a passport or leave the country without their husbands’ permission.
This issue is addressed in my novel where it has caused an immense amount of tension to one of the characters. In October 2009, I read in the news that the Supreme Court finally allowed women to have passports without their husbands’ permission. As a consequence they would be free to travel as they pleased. I was ecstatic to learn that this battle was won even though it would have caused me more work to reset the chronology of the novel so that the events take place prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling.
In real life, a woman who was denied the right to have a passport without her husband’s approval filed a case against the Minister of Interior on the basis that it was unconstitutional. She won the civil case on October 2009 and received the passport.
On Feb 2010, Al Azhar officials overruled the court decision because it was against Sharia (Religious law). The reason they gave was that such action [of allowing women to travel without husband’s permission] would create a conflict between members of the Muslim family and thus destroy the love and affection that constitutes the marriage institution. Seriously destroy it? Is holding women hostages would build the marriage institution?
In Sharia a woman is cursed by the angels if she left her husband’s house without his permission even if he was doing her injustice. She would never be forgiven until she returns back, to her abuser. Good, devout and faithful women wouldn’t even consider being disobedient to their masters. Excuse my flip, I meant their husbands. For a while I forgot that slavery was abolished. Or was it?
In the age of Noetics science, virtual realities, Twitter, net-pads, i-phones and space stations, women in Egypt are still controlled by laws drafted in the desert more than 1400 years ago. Those custodians of women’s virtues are constantly circling like sharks and systematically fighting, debating and searching for religious explanations to revoke any civil law that might remotely grant women their rights, independence or control over their issues.
What I find amusing is when these custodians of the virtues come out in the open and publicly announce that the superiority of man over woman is an honor to her. Instead of all this nonsense, did they ever consider honoring women with their silence? Because it seems that every time they open their mouths they prove nothing other than that women are merely sex objects.
Fighting for their rights to travel is a long battle for women that has to be fought. And until they win the this battle, they will have to grow wings to fly away.