In the Name of the Mother: Understanding Abortion Prohibition in Egypt Beyond Law and Religion.
Tuesday November 7 at 11am at CEDEJ,
with Ahmed Samir Santawy


This research makes the argument for an alternative framework to understand the power structures that govern Egyptian society, particularly with regard to women, and how to resist these powers during authoritarian periods, using abortion prohibition as a case study.

Based on fifteen qualitative interviews with women who undergo induced abortion and people who facilitated the process, coupled with discourse analysis of the religious and political national positions towards abortion, this research argues that the reason behind abortion prohibition in Egypt is neither religion nor the law.

Although there are religious opinions that prohibit abortion in Islam, the majority of schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence permit abortion during different stages of pregnancy and for various reasons. As for the law, while abortion is criminalized in Egypt and punished by prison terms of up to three years or up to fifteen years in cases where abortion is performed by medical professionals, these penalties are not actually applied in practice. Abortion laws are de facto inactive and are implemented only if they are accompanied by another event, such as the death of the woman who seeks abortion. Only in that case are abortion articles in the penal code enforced, along with manslaughter articles. If an abortion goes safely, it consistently escapes the legal radar. So, if it’s not the religion and not the law, what then makes safe abortion so difficult to access in Egypt?

In my research, I highlight two alternative factors to understand why Egyptian women are denied access to safe abortion: a) The symbolic/disciplinary power of motherhood, sponsored by the state with support of religious and popular beliefs; b) The neoliberal shift in state policies that limited access to health services to those who had the necessary capital to obtain abortions.


Ahmed Samir Santawy is an Egyptian researcher specialized in the ME’s sociopolitical studies. Santawy worked in several think tanks and human rights NGOs. He holds a BA in Arabic literature from Ain Shams University in Cairo, and has just completed his MA in sociology and social anthropology from Central European University in Vienna. He has published in different Egyptian and regional outlets on various topics, including political Islam, human rights and gender equality in Egypt, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


For online participation:
CEDEJ is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Time: Nov 7, 2023 11:00 AM Cairo


Meeting ID: 952 6944 8590

Passcode: JZ7M3w