Egypt is an Islamic state, if not an Arab society. This explains why Egypt has been a pioneer among the Islamic states of the Middle East in defining and expanding women's rights. Religion and religious law has a less fundamentalist cast. The literal words of the Quran have been modified and softened, so that the lot of Egyptian women has been improved much more than in surrounding Islamic states. This is also due to the legal heritage of Egypt which also differs from that of its neighbors. Roman law, especially that derived from the Napoleonic Code during Egypt's French occupation, has limited the reach of religious law. And, surprisingly enough, so has the law of the Ottoman Empire of which Egypt was a part.
Modern Egyptian politics has also aided the cause of women's rights. In 1962, in the radical transformation of Egyptian politics brought about by the overthrow of King Farouk by Gamal Abdel Nasser, special attention was paid to women. Nasser's slogan urged that "women must enjoy equal rights with men." In 1956, women were given the right to vote. The education of women advanced greatly, opening more opportunities in universities and in secondary schools. However, in the field of women's personal rights -- marriage, divorce, and property -- women enjoy less generous treatment. In fact, the substantive laws of Islam still prevail in these areas.
The Egyptian Constitution of 1956 gave women the rights to vote, to run for office in national and local elections, and to hold certain public offices. 1 Although voting is compulsory for men it has never been so for women. This fact, coupled with the traditional Islamic view that women are unequal with men due to their nature (which is inherently unstable and unfit for making important decisions), has resulted in a small percentage of women actually utilizing the franchise. 2 In order to vote the person must be a member of the Arab Socialist Union. Membership has at times been denied to females. 3 Although the government has given the franchise to women it has not provided a legal or institutional framework which would make utilization of a woman's voting rights accessible or practical for a great number of Egyptian women. 4
Women are limited by Islamic principles from holding all the offices which are open to men. The principle that the testimony of a woman is worth only half that of a man precludes her from seeking judgeships and other high-level positions such as provincial governor. 5 One step which the government has made to facilitate greater representation by women was to change the election