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Egyptians want preacher who justified violence against women stopped

The statements of an Egyptian preacher who justified violence against women raised the ire of social media users and prompted activists to demand that he be prevented from appearing in the media.
A group of women sit in front of the Colossal statue of Amenhotep III and Tiye at the Cairo Museum, Cairo, Egypt, July 15, 2019.

CAIRO — The Arabic hashtag “Stop_Mabrouk_Attia” trended in Egypt over the past few days, as social media users demanded that the Islamic preacher who justified violence against women, be prevented from appearing in the media.

Al-Azhar University professor Mabrouk Attia sparked widespread controversy over comments he made Oct. 21 during the “Happening in Egypt” program on MBC Masr channel to a woman who was beaten and tortured by her husband.

He said that women tend to exaggerate when it comes to complaining, and no man would resort to this degree of violence unless strongly provoked, accusing wives of bringing domestic violence upon themselves.

The Speak Up initiative, a feminist initiative to support victims of violence in all its forms, shared the video on its Twitter account and commented, “When will violence against women stop being justified so casually in the media? The worst part is that this is happening in the name of religion at a time when religion is the farthest from promoting such harm. The program host was surely shocked, but there are thousands of comments applauding the preacher.”

Despite the wide rejection on social media, many support the preacher.

Amal Fahmy, director of the Tadwein Center for Social Gender Studies, told Al-Monitor that it is time to confront religious discourse that incites violence against women and refrain from tolerating attempts to justify violence, especially considering that clerics have influence over society.

She said that women can no longer tolerate the violence they face at home and on the street, let alone the unfair laws.

She noted that such comments by preachers leave their mark on young people and give men the feeling of entitlement to beat and insult their wives, and sometimes even rape them, in the name of religion.

Fahmy also pointed out that confronting such preachers will show society that not everyone who speaks in the name of a specific authority is qualified to do so or is capable of influencing people.

According to a 2015 study — titled “Survey on the Economic Cost of Gender-Based Violence,” published by the governmetal National Council for Women, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics and the United Nations Population Fund — 5.6 million women in Egypt experience violence at the hands of their husbands or fiances annually, while about 200,000 women are annually exposed to complications in pregnancy as a result of domestic violence and 2.4 million women suffer one or more types of injuries as a result of this kind of violence. 

Also, according to the study, 46% of previously married women ages 16 to 64 were exposed in Egypt to a form of violence at the hands of their husbands during the year preceding the survey (2014); 32% of respondents said that they experienced physical violence, while 12% experienced sexual violence. 

Fahmy said that Egypt does not have a law on domestic violence, as such crimes are covered by the Egyptian Penal Code under different descriptions. She said that if a battered wife files a complaint to the competent authorities stating that her husband beat her, the case is treated as a quarrel between the two parties and not labeled as domestic violence.

She stressed the need to enact comprehensive legislation for all aspects of violence against women — psychological and material — not only physical, and added that there needs to be an ethical code that prevents such instigators of violence from appearing on any type of media platform.

According to a booklet titled “The Criminal Legislative Framework for the Most Important Crimes of Violence Against Women” issued by the National Council for Women in 2020, the Egyptian law in its various branches is devoid of a comprehensive definition of violence against women, as there is no specific definition in the Penal Code or the criminal laws for a specific crime or a special chapter on violence against women. 

All forms of violence against women are included in the provisions of the Penal Code under different descriptions or names, according to the booklet. 

Amna Nosseir, professor of Islamic Thought and Philosophy at Al-Azhar University, denounced Attia’s statements and said that Islam does not justify beating women in any way and under any circumstance. She cited the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, who said, “A woman completes a man, an honorable man treats women with honor and integrity, and only a vile and dishonorable man humiliates and degrades women.”

She said that verse 34 of Surah al-Nisa — “As for those from whom you fear disobedience: advise them, then abandon them in their beds, then discipline them” — which some take as an excuse to beat their wives, is misinterpreted.

Nosseir explained that “discipline” in this specific verse means leaving the marital home, not committing physical violence. Even leaving the marital home shall be preceded by several other Quranic commands. When angry with his wife, a man shall advise her, abandon the marital bed and avoid talking to her. Leaving the house comes at the end of the list, she noted.

She concluded, “I hope that we will talk about these matters based on Islam, and not based on the personal opinion of a cleric. It is necessary to be careful when choosing words and opinions to talk about women. Meanwhile, the media should not shed light on such abnormal opinions that are not appropriate for modern women.”