Sunday, May 18, 2008

Amal Soliman, "maazuna" in Egypt

Womens ENews reports that Egypt has appointed its first female official, Amal Soliman, to certify marriages and divorces.

Soliman, a 32-year-old mother of three, applied for the position when it became vacant after her father-in-law (who had held the position in her village) passed away. The job is not inherited, and there are hundreds of maazuns in Egypt, one for each local district.

"I didn't really think about the gender issue when I applied for the job," she says. "It was close to my house and I needed something so close by so I could still be at home for my kids."

Ten others, all men, applied to fill the vacancy. Soliman had a master's degree in law from Zagazig University as well as law and criminal justice diplomas and had the highest qualifications.

Justice Minister Mamdouh Marei has sought to relieve tensions among Egypt's powerful Islamic scholars, saying that Soliman's nomination was based "on her abilities rather than on her gender." A year ago, 30 women were appointed as judges in response to activists' complaints that Egypt lagged in female participation in the judiciary.

No religious texts ban a female maazun, says Sheikh Fawzi Zefzaf, deputy director of Al-Azhar University, an influential center of Sunni Muslim theology. "But when a woman is menstruating she must not enter a mosque or read Quranic verses and that will affect her job, so for this reason we say it is not advisable to have a woman maazun," the sheikh said in a statement from his office.

The manner in which some scholars are downgrading the maazun's importance is disconcerting to Aida Seif Al Dawla, a leading activist. She wonders "why was it all over the press" if Soliman's job is inconsequential.

"This is a precedent for women in Egypt no matter what anyone says," Seif Al Dawla says. "Since when has getting married not been important? I say good for her for taking this step."

Soliman says a female maazun is more likely to be readily accepted in Cairo, where people are "more open" than in her own town. But the time has arrived for women to enter the profession.


More commentary from Egypt Today.

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