Who's your daddy?

I did a couple stories on the Hind Al Hinnawy/Ahmed Al Fishawy paternity case last year. So I was dismayed when I heard that the court had ruled against her a few months back, and unsurprised when I heard she was appealing.

Fishawy refused to take a DNA test. Now committees in Parliament are discussing a new law that would make it mandatory for defendants in paternity cases to take DNA tests. The law is being sponsored by MP Mohammed Khalil Kuwaita, of the NDP. He says the law is needed to help the hundreds of thousands of illegitimate children who currently have no legal recourse (many can’t even obtain an ID), and are often abandoned and ostracized.

The law has been sanctioned by the ever-moderate Mufti, Ali Gomaa, but many religious figures say it’s unacceptable because Islam does not allow bastards to be recognized by their fathers. They also argue that permitting women who are unmarried (or more often, married in an orfi marriage, which is a “customary� or “secret� marriage that is only semi-legitimate) to sue for paternity will increase promiscuity (it’s kind of like the US Christian argument that giving out contraception or sex education will encourage kids to have sex).

The whole thing is very complicated, involving several different legal and religious rules and arguments, but it seems to me that it has an enormous amount to do with the rise of Orfi marriages and whether society can accommodate these new types of relationships. It also of course has to do with the persistence of sexual double standards—the woman and her child are “punished� for having had extra-marital sex by being denied any paternity rights. The man gets away scot free.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.