Investigation: Alawite Women and Inheritance
Personal Status Law No. 59 of 1953 and its amendments regulate inheritance based on Islamic law. The law includes the Alawites, though it excludes Druze and Christians.
Though Alawite women are included in the law, their inheritance does not seem to receive much attention among popular circles of the Alawite sect. Like other local farming communities, some Alawite communities are not keen on female inheritance and instead wish to preserve the ownership of agricultural land and keep it in the hands of male family members.
Souad, a 70-year-old woman in a village near Tartous, told The Syria Report that she has suffered after claiming her legitimate right to inheritance. Not only did her family refuse to support her, but the local community ridiculed and ostracised her for her efforts.
Souad separated from her husband 25 years ago and was forced to live with her brothers. Despite the family owning many properties, she was unable to obtain a private room for herself, and since then she has only been allowed a bed in a common room with no privacy.
In response, Souad asked her brothers for her share of the family inheritance, a request that she said shocked the local community at first. After a long argument, the brothers agreed to give Souad her share, albeit in a way that she could not benefit from: in the form of square metres of farmland from different plots. They justified the move by telling her this would prevent Souad from selling her share. “In the end, I received only criticism and ridicule from the women of the village for what I wanted,” she said.
On the other hand, many Alawites moved to urban areas throughout the past century due to their employment in state civil and military institutions. These social shifts do not seem to have eased women’s inheritance rights.
If Souad represents one case of women in the rural Alawite community, similar conditions face educated women and women who engage in professional life in cities, including those who are unmarried or have separated from their husbands. When such women have demanded their right to inheritances, their families have often relented, but the quota of shares granted to women remained part of their inheritance rights, as stipulated in the law. Women who spoke with The Syria Report said they were given small portions of land, land that is of low value in the real estate market, or limited compensation. Most of the women interviewed for this report said that they had not received their full, legitimate shares as defined within Law No. 59 of 1953.
Samar is a 50-year-old woman who lives in the city of Lattakia with her husband and three children. Her father had only signed up his male children for homes within a housing cooperative. He did not give his daughters shares of the original family home and instead distributed the shares to his sons, including a wealthy son living abroad. In 2018, after a long argument between the daughters and the rest of the family, each daughter was given SYP 300,000 as their final share of the inheritance. “Even my mother stood on the side of my brothers,” Samar said. “She told me that my husband is the one responsible for me, not my own family.”
In some extraordinary cases, fathers allocated their daughters their full shares under the law, which became major news in some villages and among relatives. Ali, a man in his 80s living in the Rural Lattakia Governorate, gave a home to each of his daughters, on top of the shares that he also gave to his sons. Ali told The Syria Report that his neighbours asked him why he handed over properties to his daughters. Some believed he had been unfair to his sons, and that he should have given his daughters small plots of land at best. Ali added: “When I asked them, ‘Are we not Muslims? Shouldn’t we adhere to Sharia and the law?’ They were surprised by my words.”
An activist from a rural part of the Lattakia Governorate told The Syria Report that Ali’s approach was an individual case and does not represent the broader trend. She added that one man from her area had sold his house and distributed the earnings to his two daughters. Other residents disagreed with the man’s choice, saying that it would encourage their daughters to consider their inheritance rights.