Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Theocracy beckons?
One for the pro-war left: Juan Cole reports protests at the Iraqi Governing Council's imposition of religious law on women.

Women activists representing 80 women's organizations (including the female Interim Minister of Public Works!) gathered at Firdaws Square in downtown Baghdad to protest the IGC decree, issued three days ago. Minister of Public Works Nasreen Barwari complained to az-Zaman about the lack of "transparency" and of "democratic consultation" in the promulgation of the decree by the IGC. Protesters carried placards with phrases like "No to discrimination, No to differentiating women and men in our New Iraq." and "We reject Decree 137, which sanctifies religious communalism." Activist Zakiyah Khalifah complained that the law would weaken Iraqi families.

US observers, including US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, have continually worried in public about Iraq becoming a theocracy, and have rejected that option. But the American-appointed Interim Governing Council has suddenly taken Iraq in a theocratic direction that has important implications for women's rights. As reported here earlier, the IGC took a decision recently to abolish Iraq's civil personal status law, which was uniform for all Iraqis under the Baath. In its place, the IGC called for religious law to govern personal status, to be administered by the clerics of each of Iraq's major religious communities for members of their religion. Thus, Shiites would be under Shiite law and Chaldeans under Catholic canon law for these purposes.

The IGC has ceded to the religious codes jurisdiction over marriage, engagement, suitability to marry, the marriage contract, proof of marriage, dowry, financial support, divorce, the 3-month "severance payments" owed to divorced wives in lieu of alimony, inheritance, and all other personal status matters.