Remarks by Egypt's education minister on whether school-age girls should or should not wear the hijab triggered confusion and initiated rumours that the government would ban the Islamic scarf in schools.
"Imposing the Islamic headscarf on primary level students by some people is unacceptable," Egypt’s Minister of Education, Moheb El-Rafei, told TV host Wael El-Ebrashi during a TV interview on Saturday evening.
“They are just children, they have to move freely and carry out activities,” El-Rafei told TV host Wael El-Ebrashy on the private satellite channel Dream 2.
“Even God didn’t mandate [wearing] the hijab until a girl reaches the age of puberty,” El-Rafei said.
A number of websites and social media users interpreted the minister's comments as a prelude to an official ban on school-age girls wearing the scarf.
Some Twitter users criticised the minister's comments, asking him to focus on 'improving education rather than focusing on girls' wardrobes.
Others, who support a decision to ban the hijab, mused that the state is actually too weak to do so.
On Sunday, Hany Kamal, the education ministry's spokesperson, clarified the minister's statements.
Kamal said that the minister was only asked by host El-Ebrashy whether he thought that imposing the hijab on primary level students by some schools or some parents was actually acceptable.
Any news of a hijab ban is unfounded, Kamal said.
"There's no such thing as a hijab ban, wearing the hijab or taking it off is a personal freedom," Kamal told Ahram Online.
There is no law in Egypt that regulates dress codes or bans the hijab, Kamal added.
"I can't force anyone to take the hijab off or put it on, this is something that would make me subject to legal accountability," Kamal asserted.