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Comparative Summary

This report discusses the legal provisions governing inheritance rights, the legal age of marriage, and the transmittal of citizenship through the mother in 18 Middle Eastern and North African countries, including Israel, Iran, and 16 Arab countries (Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Syria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen). To the extent applicable, the report also discusses constitutional provisions promoting gender equality in these countries.

I. Gender and Inheritance

Regarding inheritance, the Arab countries apply Islamic law, which provides that a woman’s share of an inheritance is half that of a man. The Shi’i Muslim country of Iran applies the same rules of inheritance adopted by Arab countries. For instance, daughters of an Iranian family may claim only half of the inheritance to which sons are entitled. Furthermore, an Iranian mother of a deceased person is entitled to only one-third of the estate, while the father receives the rest. However, Iran did pass a law in 2009 allowing women to inherit all forms of their husband’s property. Israel is the only country in the Middle East that does not differentiate between males and females with regard to inheritance.

Table 1: Gender and Inheritance

Country

Gender Distinction

No Gender Distinction

Exceptions

Algeria

X*

 

 

Bahrain

X

 

 

Egypt

X

 

  X**

Jordan

X

 

 

Iran

X

 

 

Iraq

X

 

 

Israel

 

X

 

Kuwait

X

 

 

Lebanon

X

 

 

Libya

X

 

 

Morocco

X

 

 

Oman

X

 

 

Qatar

X

 

 

Tunisia

   X***

 

 

Saudi Arabia

X

 

 

Syria

X

 

 

United Arab Emirates

X

 

 

Yemen

X

 

 

Source: Law Library of Congress.

* Arab countries typically apply Islamic law to matters of inheritance and thus only allow women to inherit half of what men inherit.

** An Egyptian court recently allowed a Christian woman to inherit from her father’s estate, accepting the woman’s argument that she should not be subject to Islamic law.

*** Legislation is pending in Tunisia that would give women and men equal inheritance shares.

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II. Transmission of Citizenship by Mother

Many Arab countries grant mothers the right to transmit citizenship to their children; however, some countries, such as Libya, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain have made this right conditional on the child’s father being unknown or stateless. Other countries, such as Jordan, Qatar, and Lebanon do not allow mothers to transmit citizenship to their children. In contrast, the Israeli Citizenship Law does not differentiate between a husband and wife for purposes of acquisition of citizenship based on marriage to an Israeli citizen, nor does it differentiate between the parents based on their gender or marital status for purposes of conferring citizenship on a child. Iranian women, on the other hand, are not able to transmit their nationality to non-national spouses, and were unable to transmit citizenship to their children until the approval of a law by Iran’s Guardian Council in early October 2019.

Table 2: Legal Provisions Allowing Transmission of Citizenship by Mother

Country

No

Yes

Yes with Qualifications

Algeria

 

X

 

Bahrain

 

 

 X*

Egypt

 

X

 

Jordan

X

 

 

Iran

 

 

X

Iraq

 

X

 

Israel

 

X

 

Kuwait

 

 

 X*

Lebanon

X

 

 

Libya

 

 

 X*

Morocco

 

X

 

Oman

 

X

 

Qatar

X

 

 

Tunisia

 

X

 

Saudi Arabia

 

 

 X*

Syria

 

 

 X*

United Arab Emirates

 

 

 X*

Yemen

 

X

 

Source: Law Library of Congress.

*Bahrain and Libya: The father must be unknown or stateless. Kuwait and Syria: The father must be unknown. Saudi Arabia: The father must be unknown or a foreigner, and in the latter case the child must apply for citizenship upon reaching legal age. UAE: The father must be unknown, stateless, or a foreigner, and in the latter case, the child’s citizenship only attaches after he/she reaches six years of age.

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III.  Legal Age of Marriage

Many Arab countries set the minimum age of marriage for women at eighteen years of age. However, these countries also have provisions in their family laws that allow the religious courts to grant women younger than eighteen the right to marry. In Bahrain the minimum age for marriage is 16 for females, while Yemen allow females as young as nine years old to marry. In Iran, the minimum age of marriage for females is 13 (according to the Iranian calendar), but marriages at an even younger age may occur if the child’s guardian and a court approve.

In Israel the minimum age of marriage is eighteen, and marrying, officiating, or assisting in the marriage of a minor in the absence of judicial authorization granted under special circumstances is a criminal offense punishable by two years of imprisonment or a fine. However, the criminal liability associated with underage marriage does not affect the validity of the marriage where it is recognized under the personal status law of the parties.

Table 3: Legal Age of Marriage

Country

Age for Females

Age for Males

Earlier with Court and/or Guardian Approval

Varies by Religion

Algeria

19

19

X

 

Bahrain

16

18

X

 

Egypt

16

18

 

 

Jordan

18

18

X

 

Iran*

13

15

X

 

Iraq

18

18

X

 

Israel

18

18

X

 

Kuwait

15

17

X

 

Lebanon

 

 

 

  X**

Libya

20

20

 

 

Morocco

18

18

X

 

Oman

18

18

X

 

Qatar

16

18

X

 

Tunisia

18

18

X

 

Saudi Arabia

17

17

X

 

Syria

18

18

X

 

United Arab Emirates

18

18

X

 

Yemen

No minimum

No minimum

 

 

Source: Law Library of Congress.

* The ages indicated for Iran are calculated under the Iranian (Persian) calendar.

** Different ages, ranging from puberty (nine to 13) to 17 for girls and 15 to 18 for boys, are recognized in Lebanon according to the person’s religious sect—Catholic Christian, Orthodox Christian, Protestant Christian, Sunni Muslim, Shi’a Muslim, or Druze. A male guardian’s permission to marry is also required in some circumstances.

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IV. Constitutional Provisions Addressing Equality

Most of the constitutions of Arab countries include a provision promoting the principle of gender equality. However, some countries, such as Kuwait, Jordan, and the UAE do not include the term ”gender” in the equality provision. This reference to gender is also lacking in the basic law of Saudi Arabia. Instead, the country’s basic law of 1992 links the principle of equality to the standards of Islamic law, which limits the rights of females with regard to inheritance shares. The Constitution of Iran references “equal rights and protection under the law” for men and women, but the rights it affords are circumscribed by the requirement that they “conform to Islamic criteria” that themselves do not give women equal status with men.

Table 4: Constitutional Provisions Addressing Equality

Country

Gender Equality Expressly Mentioned

Gender Equality Not Expressly Mentioned

Algeria

X

 

Bahrain

X

 

Egypt

X

 

Jordan

 

X

Iran

 

 X*

Iraq

X

 

Israel

  X**

 

Kuwait

 

X

Lebanon

 

X

Libya

 

X

Morocco

X

 

Oman

 

X

Qatar

X

 

Tunisia

X

 

Saudi Arabia

 

X

Syria

X

 

United Arab Emirates

 

X

Yemen

 

X

Source: Law Library of Congress.

* Iran’s Constitution references “equal rights and protection under the law” for men and women, but only in conformity with “Islamic criteria,” and those criteria have historically been interpreted to limit women’s rights.

** Israel does not have a one-document constitution but its Proclamation of Independence guarantees “complete equality . . . irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”

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V. Legal Provisions Addressing Domestic Violence

Many Arab countries have adopted legislation to combat the problem of domestic violence. However, countries such as Egypt, Qatar, Oman, and Yemen lack anti-domestic violence laws. In addition, some of the anti-domestic violence legislation of Arab countries, including Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, do not criminalize marital rape. Iran currently has no law aimed at preventing domestic violence and protecting women victims of violence, and a bill currently under consideration does not adequately address these issues. The Family Violence Prevention Law, 1991-5751 of the State of Israel, authorizes courts and religious tribunals to issue protective orders, order participation in treatment plans, and order the confiscation of weapons, in accordance with the requirements established by the Law.

Table 5: Legal Provisions Addressing Domestic Violence

Country

No

Yes

Algeria

 

X

Bahrain

 

X

Egypt

X

 

Jordan

 

 X*

Iran

X

 

Iraq

X

 

Israel

 

X

Kuwait

X

 

Lebanon

 

  X*

Libya

X

 

Morocco

 

 X*

Oman

X

 

Qatar

X

 

Tunisia

 

X

Saudi Arabia

 

X

Syria

X

 

United Arab Emirates

 

X

Yemen

X

 

Source: Law Library of Congress.

* Addresses some acts of domestic violence but does not address marital rape.

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Prepared by George Sadek
Foreign Law Specialist
February 2020

The following country surveys provide detailed information on the relevant legal provisions of the surveyed countries.

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Last Updated: 02/25/2020