Karzai Backs down on Key Elements of Law on Shiite Personal Status

The Afghan government says that it will amend a recently passed law that puts Afghanistan’s Shiites under the law of their branch of Islam for personal status purposes. The law allowed marital rape and detracted from the rights of women in other ways, as well.

The government’s pledge to amend the law so as to forbid marital rape misses the point. Afghanistan has a civil code on personal status, and all citizens should be under it. If the state farms out personal status law to a Shiite court, then a conservative interpretation of Shiite law (sharia) will become the de facto law of the land for Shiites. Moreover, there is the issue of the state creating the Shiites as a separate group not under national law.

Some 300 to 500 women had demonstrated in Kabul on Wednesday, drawing a larger counter-demonstration of men who support the law.

AP reports on the reaction to the women’s demonstration, which included pelting them with stones.

The conservative Persian-language Afghan press dismissed the women as largely local school students joined by a few prominent outside agitators, who were challenging the authority of the Hawza or Shiite religious establishment. In fact, the demonstrators consisted of women’s rights activists from all over the country.

The issue should not be construed as a couple of objectionable provisions of Shiite Islamic law, but the desirability in a democracy of having a uniform civil code for all citizens. Karzai is widely thought to have signed the bill to pander to Shiite clerics, in a bid to attract votes from the Shiite minority, some 22 percent of the population. Karzai is contesting a presidential election in August.

Updated link See for controversies about the US in Afghanistan William Astore at Tomdispatch, just out.

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