“I was in a car with my younger brother and his friend when we stopped in an uninhabited area next to the highway,” said 29-year-old Esraa el Saeed. “My brother took off the jewelry I was wearing, tied my arms, put tape over my mouth and signaled his friend to start. His friend then tried to rape me while my brother was filming with his phone.”
Videos of Esraa trying to escape the car spread on social media. Esraa appeared with disheveled hair, torn clothes, and blood coming from her mouth. According to Esraa, who is a doctor, her 21-year-old brother aimed to force her to sign a waiver giving up her inheritance.
When she refused, he encouraged his friend to rape her. He would film the crime in order to blackmail her and force her to give up her inheritance. The plan failed as people interfered at the last moment. Her brother and his friend were arrested and detained. Despite the video, the horrific crime raised questions due to the incredible notion that a brother orchestrated the rape of his own sister. He claims he was only trying to discipline her as he had caught her in a “compromising” position.
However, Esraa presented more visual evidence from the surveillance and street cameras in front of her apartment in Mansoura, which proves she, accompanied by her brother, had left only minutes before the incident took place. The images also show how she stood in front of the car, surprised to see another person inside it. In addition, she was clearly stripped of her clothes, with her arms tied, while her body showed signs of severe violence.
The Egyptian patriarchal system is aware of the growing sensitivity of playing with the concept of “honor” at a social and legal level. Several cases have been documented showing how the husband resorted to blackmailing his wife to give up her rights after divorce, whether that concerns custody of the children or material demands. In other cases, the husband even resorted to having someone rape his wife and film the act to force her to give up her rights, as infamously happened with the murdered Iman Adel.
Esraa’s younger brother seemingly was not the only trying to play the “honor chord” by orchestrating the rape of his sister and filming it. His brother testified in defense of him. “Her life is not normal, I don’t like talking about it,” he said. “She got married once, twice, three times, she wants to live her life without us interfering in it.”
The issue of stigma in Egypt is developing in a way that is hard to understand. A woman who is married more than once is stigmatized. And an independent woman, who refuses interference in her decisions, is stigmatized. Esraa is the older sister. As soon as she reached legal age, she started suffering from violence from her brothers and them bargaining, over not only their parents’ inheritance, but also over the way she lived.
Marriage as a Ploy
Esraa’s story currently dominates the headlines in Egypt, but the list of women being prevented from obtaining their inheritance is endless.
Samia Hussein (33) drew attention to the “tricks” to prevent girls from getting what is legally theirs. The most prominent is freezing the inheritance until the girl gets married.
“My brothers believe there is no need to rush to divide the family estate and give me my inheritance as long as I am unmarried,” Samia explained. “My brothers manage my late father’s property and benefit from it. They give me a monthly allowance. They argue there is no need to divide the estate as long as I am unmarried.”
Many Egyptian families are afraid of giving girls their inheritance if they are still single, because it would give them an opportunity to become independent, especially if the amount is big enough to buy a home, start a project, travel or emigrate. For many of those belonging to the Egyptian middle class, the inheritance comes alongside a woman going “wild and free” with the money. This is why many don’t get their inheritance until they are under the control of a man, who will then be responsible for every movement in their lives.
“Many times I thought that I would just marry anyone, just to get my inheritance,” Samia said. “Because the legal option, which is to file a case against my mother and brothers, will make me lose my family forever. Also this will legally take too long, the case may take years in court.”
Women, especially in rural Egypt, are often torn between obtaining their legitimate inheritance or giving up a large parts of it, in order not to lose their relationships with their families, especially their relationship with their brothers. The case of female heirs taking only a small share of their inheritance, and being “outwardly satisfied,” while handing the rest to her brothers, is still widespread.
Family or Inheritance
Wafaa Hussein (44) told Daraj she got her inheritance by mutual consent, a sum of money that did not exceed 50,000 Egyptian pounds, in exchange for giving up her claim on the agricultural lands, which went to her brothers, despite the fact they are worth millions. “It is a custom that is difficult to oppose,” she said. “Because the land of my deceased father is not allowed to go to a strange man (my husband). This is how they look at things.”
The latest statistics on inheritance disputes from the Egyptian Ministry of Justice indicate that 35 percent of women who were deprived of their inheritance were subjected to physical abuse, 15 percent to extortion, while the remaining 50 percent were forced to give up their rights due to blackmail, fear for family disputes or parental anger.
The data furthermore indicate that 50 percent of women’s dispossession of inheritance cases is linked to the brothers, 25 percent to the mother and her refusal to obtain her daughter’s rights, and 25 percent to the father who wants everything to go to his sons.
“It is common in the Egyptian countryside, especially during the religious and festive seasons, to cut off social visits, which means she would be without familial bonds, while facing any problems she might have with her husband or others,” Egyptian human rights activist Lamia Lotfi told Daraj. “Some women then accept to give up their inheritance for fear of losing their social bonds.”
Looking at the pages of daily incidents in Egypt, the concept of “the bond” seems misleading, especially in case of murder. Some of these incidents concern a brother killing his sister out of greed for the inheritance; the imprisonment of a young man accused of killing his sister over an inheritance dispute; a young man attempting to kill his sister by running her over with his car due to an inheritance disputes; a man killing one sister and attempting to kill a second one due to the inheritance.
Lotfi believes that many Egyptian women prefer family protection, because legal protection is often insufficient, while inheritance matters in the cities are relatively better dealt with than in the countryside.
The issue of inheritance in Egypt remains far removed from what is happening in other Arab countries, such as Tunisia, which is further advanced in the debate on equality between men and women, and the enactment of laws that guarantee obtaining an inheritance without facing extortion. In Egypt the legal arrow is actually moving backward in an accelerated way, and the famous excuse that helps them get away with it is that they’re doing it “according to Islamic Sharia law.”