Governing Diversity in the Personal Status Domain in the Arab Mashreq States

The Arab Mashreq region, namely Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine and Iraq, is known for its significant religious diversity, a fact that casts its shadow on various aspects of these countries’ political, cultural, social and legal life. In this region, citizens’ religious affiliation affects their legal status. In civil status matters, Christians have their Canon Laws, Muslims are subject to Islamic Sharia and the Druze their own doctrinal laws. Over and above that, the region has a variety of religious courts, whereby there are spiritual courts for Christians, doctrinal (madhabi) courts for the Druze and Sharia courts for Muslims. Egypt is a different case since it annulled religious courts for non-Muslims in 1955, but kept their Canon Laws under certain conditions.

Diversity management in the personal status domain, like in other fields, should ensure religious freedom and the citizens’ equality as far as rights and responsibilities are concerned, as well as in front of the law and justice. However, current religious legislation and jurisprudence relevant to personal status show serious shortcomings as we will explain in the paper.

This paper provides an analytical and critical review of the way the legislators and the judiciary in the Arab Mashreq govern diversity in the personal status domain and emphasizes the legal provisions that violate religious freedom and equality before the law and justice. It starts by reviewing the impact that these laws have on people’s lives, considers the jurisprudence of various religious courts. Finally, it provides a series of recommendations in line with the principles of personal and religious freedom, and equality among the citizens.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.