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Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Veil or no veil, Egyptian women are often stigmatised, or worse

Calls for women to take off their veils at a demonstration in Cairo initiated debate over Islamic attire for women in Egypt

Sherif Tarek , Tuesday 28 Apr 2015
Nehal Kamal
A photo that went viral on social media of Nehal Kamal, a girl who claims she was assaulted when she decided to take off her Islamic veil (Photo: A public Facebook post)
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After spending one year living in Cairo, Muslim teenager Sara decided to adopt the Islamic veil, dressing modestly to show only her face and the palms of her hands in public as per mainstream Islamic teachings for women.

She was not following her religious beliefs by wearing the hijab, but rather succumbing to social pressure and seeking to avoid recurrent harassment.

Sara had visited Cairo beforehand. But when she began living there in 2001, she says, she experienced the predicament of being a woman in the huge city, both with and without the hijab.

"Getting groped or touched by sexual harassers would happen on average once a month," recalls Sara, the daughter of an Egyptian mother and a Moroccan father who was born and raised in Kuwait.

"Verbal harassment, that's all the time. Not a day would go by without hearing comments whether from people flirting with me, hurling sexual insults at me, criticising or even cursing me for the way I dress.

"Many people would think women in Kuwait, as a Gulf country, have less freedom than in Egypt. As a matter of fact it's completely the opposite," says Sara, who speaks Egyptian Arabic almost perfectly.

Sara moved to Cairo to join the English section of the linguistics faculty at Ain Shams University. She first started to feel the differences between both countries' norms on campus.

"In my early days, I once went to the university in shorts. I was playing basketball at the time and shorts were just the most practical and convenient [thing]. I was denied entry at the gate by security personnel."

The hijab became increasingly common among the working classes in Egypt from the 1970s.

In the early 2000s, thanks to rhetoric from Islamic preacher Amr Khaled, who was massively popular at the time among the youth, many girls from upper and middle classes opted to be veiled as well.

The harassment Sara was subject to was not always sexual, she says, but some also came from people – mainly female colleagues – who were not happy with the fact that she was Muslim and not veiled.

"I was once in the mosque of the university reading the Quran during the holy month of Ramadan, and then a girl congratulated me on 'converting to Islam.'

"Most people thought I was Christian because I was not veiled like the majority of Muslim girls in Cairo, and also because most of my university friends were Copts.

"Many veiled girls who found out I'm Muslim would persistently ask me to wear the hijab. Their concern about my religion, my beliefs or how I dressed baffled me and was really annoying."

Sara wore the veil for five years. But the headscarf gave her little respite throughout the remainder of her time in Cairo, and she took it off following her departure.

"It was primarily to protect myself from sexual harassment, but the hijab barely made a difference. Harassers would approach me anyway, though I lived in the upper class district of Maadi," she says.

"I also still found people who would express dismay at my hijab, for not wearing a longer shirt or whatever. I would still hear comments from people who gave themselves the right to judge me.

"I took it off after I returned to Kuwait, where I can afford my penchant for wearing what I want. My father always told me I would eventually do that because he knew I never really wanted to be veiled.

"Sexual harassment could be the reason why a girl would wear the veil in Egypt, even today, I believe. I have visited Cairo several times in recent years and I see that sexual harassment is rampant.

"Also during my university days the hijab was trending; another reason why I became veiled. My cousin at the time made the same decision and that encouraged me."

Social pressure and calls to wear the Islamic veil further increased after the 2011 uprising, which saw longstanding autocrat Hosni Mubarak toppled and Islamist forces come to power.

In the years that followed the uprising, Islamist forces dominated the first post-Mubarak parliament and helped Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, win the 2012 presidential poll.

At the same time, calls to "Islamise" Egypt became common on Islamist-leaning media outlets and from well-known clerics.

Flip side of coin

Morsi's ouster in July 2013 after nationwide mass protests against his rule, and the ensuing crackdown on Islamists and much of their media, have ended that rhetoric, paving the way for secular voices.

Writer Cherif Choubachy recently called for a demonstration in which veiled women would take off their headscarves, arguing that the hijab is the result of oppression and backwardness.

His proposed protest stirred up controversy, with some voicing support and others objecting to the call. There has still been no confirmation that any such rally will actually be staged.

Although she felt she was obliged to wear the hijab, Sara says she would not have taken part in such a demonstration had it taken place in Cairo when she was still veiled.

"If this is what I think, I shouldn't impose my opinion on the public," says Sara, who now works as a simultaneous interpreter and lives with her husband in New York.

"I can't really imagine a protest taking place in New York against a certain attire, though there are a lot more freedoms here.

"Right before I took off the hijab my application for a job at an international organisation was turned down in Kuwait. The official reason for the rejection was the veil. I was really upset."

While this is arguably a form of discrimination against veiled women, it is clearly discrimination to prevent them from entering public places.

In Egypt, it is common to prohibit veiled women from entering night clubs and pubs. Since last year, an increasing number of veiled women were reported to have been denied entry to restaurants as well.

One of the cases that created a fuss was that of Heba Arnaout, a professor of microbiology in her 50s who has been veiled for many years.

Going to a restaurant and bar in Cairo's upscale district of Zamalek late in December, she says she was asked to leave with her husband and foreign friends because she was wearing the hijab.

They got a table after threatening to go to the police and file a report against what she and her husband described as an encroachment on her civil and constitutional rights.

"Places like that, if they dare, should put a sign outside saying 'veiled women are not welcome.' Like when hotels would put a sign reading 'no pets allowed,'" Arnaout says.

"My only interpretation of what happened is that it's a form of religious discrimination. I understand if certain places have a dress code, like the Opera House for example. But that's not the case.

"What if I was wearing a hat? Or from a country where they wrap their heads in a traditional way and not for religious reasons? Will I still be given that attitude? The answer is probably not.

"Having a dress code and specifically preventing the Islamic veil are two different things. When we were arguing they told me they serve alcohol, as if they should decide for me if I should drink or not.

"A woman could be wearing the hijab only because she has cancer. Another could be wearing it and not praying, or drinking alcohol; not all veiled women are devout. In all cases it's none of their business."

Similarly, Choubachy has unilaterally decided to talk on behalf of veiled women and express what he thinks is best for them, Arnaout says.

"I understand that people have the right to express their opinions. A writer would produce an op-ed for instance, but you don't get to tell people what to do. It's my choice whether to wear the hijab or not."

But how often is it a matter of choice?

'Put on what people like,' or else

In Egypt, women are not usually free to wear what they want, states Dalia Abd El-Hameed, Gender and Women's Rights Officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)*.

"For instance, an upper-class lady could be given hard time for wearing a veil because it's not very suitable for her social circles. That happens a lot and could affect the way a woman wants to dress.

"On the other hand, girls in rundown districts after a certain age would have to wear the hijab as per communal traditions. If not, she could suffer dire consequences in school, at home, or in the street.

"Women are not free to wear what they want and I'm glad this topic is brought to public discussion these days," Dalia opines, seeing the debate around the hijab as an impetus to female emancipation.

"Many factors control how women dress in Egypt," she explains. "Social class, workplaces, places of residence, families, among other elements affect how a woman dresses.

"These are layers of authority imposed on women's bodies, and that makes talking about how free women are to dress how they want relatively meaningless.

"In some cases, physical violence could be the price of challenging these authorities."

A photo of a young woman with a swollen eye and bruises on her cheek went viral on social media on Monday. She was allegedly assaulted for taking off her hijab three months ago.

A Facebook account named Nehal Kamal, the girl in the photo, says the injuries were the price of taking off the veil. She did not go through details and was not available for further comment.

"The one who wants to take off [the hijab] is not as untroubled as the one who wants to put [it] on," says Nehal, who identifies herself on Facebook as an interior designer, vocalist and actress.

"This is part of what happened to me when I decided to take off the hijab and only today [Monday] I felt enough courage to post this photo," she says in the public post.

In a later post, she explains that she uploaded the photo because "lately there was a mass call to take off the veil."

Many people reacted by saying every woman can just wear or not wear what she wants, Nehal goes on, "as if we live in a country that backs freedoms... as if whoever takes off the veil would live in peace."

"People need to know what we're living in our country and that there is no human, a boy or a girl, who does what they want."

A proverb saying "eat what you like, and put on what people like" sheds light on how judgmental Egyptian society can be when it comes to appearance, says Samia Kadri, a sociology professor.

"The old Egyptian proverb simply means people here have for long cared about appearance more than what's inside," she says, stressing that non-veiled women get the lion's share of prejudice.

Since the 1970s, women's veils started to become familiar in Egypt, "primarily due to strong religious rhetoric, and mass migration to Gulf countries that resulted in some of their traditions being brought back home."

"Now, maybe around five percent of women in Egypt are not veiled. That makes them out of the norm and, consequently in a society like ours, more prone to harassment and discrimination.

"There is a notable lack of morals. Thus many people, whether sexual harassers or conservative individuals, wouldn't hesitate to stigmatise women in different ways for how they dress," Samia says.

"It will take decades to have a society that accepts differences in Egypt, if that will ever happen. Media and education, among a myriad of other elements, would be involved in such a transformation."

Next to social pressure, political affiliations could be an extra burden for women, Dalia elaborates.

"EIPR observed cases where veiled Syrian women were physically attacked, insulted and kicked out of public microbuses because people recognised their nationality through their distinct hijab."

Many people who oppose ousted president Morsi believe Syrians in Egypt, who are in the many thousands thanks to the civil war in Syria, were supporting him and opposed his toppling.

"We also got reports that face-veiled women [who are usually ultra-conservative and of Islamist affiliations] were attacked by anti-Islamists individuals," Dalia continues.

"On the other hand, we had reports of women who were attacked by Islamists for not wearing the hijab; it goes both ways."

In general, there is a widespread notion that women are bearers of the national identity and should dress accordingly, Dalia says.

"Veiled women from the Brotherhood always stress the way they dress expresses the Islamic identity of the country. Some liberal women would think they support secularism by doing the opposite.

"Women need to be free of that notion and realise they only represent themselves. No one asks men not to wear trousers and put on traditional attire for the sake of the country's identity."

*Established in 2002, EIPR's mission reads it has been working to strengthen and protect basic rights and freedoms in Egypt, and is supporting litigation in the fields of civil liberties and social rights.

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28



Tobe Levin von Gleichen
10-05-2015 01:56am
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4+
Readers also need to know the rate of clitoridectomy in Egypt
Harassment and Egyptian women's perceived need for protection is likely linked to FGM Trauma. Your primary readers know this but not others. The article, in honesty, should mention it.
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27



Yasmina
08-05-2015 06:34am
213-
103+
So Sad
It is very unfortunate that there are many Egyptian men who are so threatened by women they they behave so badly and taint the good Egyptian men. It's a sick group of men who are excited over hair. There is something wrong when people believe it is hajab or nicob that make a person good. The honor of a people is not in what they wear, but in the goodness or evil they do to one another. It is allowing each other freedom of expression, freedom to dress comfortably (and i am not supporting real indecency). This is the 21st century and we need to adjust and live together with respect, and self respect, or we will all die together tearing ourselves and each other apart.
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26



expat
03-05-2015 11:41pm
6-
33+
general question
is a woman/daughter/ granddaughter etc just a treasure to your tribe,for sale to the best spending man arround(as long as he is muslim) or is it a own person,respected and capable of its own live without older brothers to protect/fathers to rage/mothers to choose the husbands etc? did you maybe untill now realise,that YOU are living in the year 2015(sorry,cannot decipher the year in arabic :) after the prophets death) i wonder,what this society cares about children, as it is cutting 80% of its female flock brutally of its birth rights,then rejecting them the free choice of husbands and after that try to tell them,how veiled they should be... from the perspective of a foreigner,its just crazy,what you do to your ladies
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25



Sam Enslow
03-05-2015 09:37am
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42+
Off topic
The theme of the article is the treatment of women in Egypt, not religious practices. If people of all faith - not just Abrahamic - followed the spirit of their religion, this problem would not exist. There is often a very big difference in what a people should do and what they actually do, a big difference between theory and practice. Mere people fail. We are not perfect and do not understand what plan God has for us or others. Had God wanted us all to be the same, we would all be the same, like robots. Most, if not all, religions prohibit us from judging others. But we can try to improve ourselves as individuals and as a society. Someone once said that the foundation if The Law is to love one another and to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This simple message, found in various forms in many religions, is too often forgotten. Religion should uplift the human spirit. It seems too often it us used as another stick to beat people - not encourage or bring Hope.
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24



Noura Abdul Khaleq, Cairo
03-05-2015 12:04am
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Dear editor
Your code states that: We will not publish comments which contain racist remarks or any kind of racial or religious incitement against any group of people, in Egypt or outside it. "Democracia" has grossly violated the rules of this podium ridiculing the Holy Quran, the Muslim scriptures that is sanctifed by all Muslims. I hope you take note of this matter.
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23



Fadi Abdul Ahad, Cairo
02-05-2015 11:44pm
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213+
Democracia: You are not a Muslim
You have no right to ridicule and malign the religion of 1670 milliom people. Besides, you are violating the rules of this podium. Actually you did this twice in five days. (Editor, please take notes of this."
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22



Karen, Germany
02-05-2015 12:09pm
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The pro-veil people are more logical, more reasonable
As a westerner I find arguments by pro-Hejab advocates more logical and more tolerant. But I do see the secularists, not all of them but most of them, visibly vindictive, vingeant, abusive, convulsive, arrogant and contemptuous of others. This is sad, really.
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expat
03-05-2015 11:33pm
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and
your tolerant days will end very brutally sooon,thats a promise to YOU
expat
03-05-2015 09:16pm
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? where have YOU been in germany the last 30 years?
we had it all untill now,and even the state propaganda cannot keep the normally utter silent germans anymore quiet: we had honour murders of daughters(ok,they tried to cover it as cultural normality),we had students at hamburg university,well educated,flying into other nations buildings to kill as much as possible whilst warmly supported by leftist teachers, we had mad convertits mixing the good chemicals to generate bombs inside germany(thanks for the thanks to give you rescue as so called refugees or asylants), we had murderous scum from egypt,opting again as asylants,just after that going to bosnia and chopping heads there,after that becoming one of the most virulant salafeen teacher in germany(and funny,he lived well on state solidarity by 2000 euro and a own house), we have the MB happy about their third mosque in munich,we have the turks since demirel trying to conquer our land by birth jihad(he himself stated that openly) etc....and you like veils? i dont understand suicidal ten
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Izzat Alayli Cairo
02-05-2015 11:58am
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expat: I'll give you a nillion dollars if you prove to me the slightest contradiction between the Wahaabis and the Quraan
Discussion ought to be based on knowledge, and you apparently have none. I am not a Wahhabi.ut having studied what you call Wahabbism meticulously, I can attest that there is a complete harmoney and concordance between their teachings and the Quran. Don't talk bunk.... cite a proof from the Quran. Or Shut up.
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expat
03-05-2015 08:50pm
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4+
honesty?
you talk about a sura,which is meant to deal with beaten enemies(like the copts in egypt or the christians in syria today),not in a free and christian mayority country...remember house of islam and house of war?and equity? you raise extra religious taxes on dhimmis,but khuffars..which choices they have according to the quoran? you put yourself more and more in trouble,mate...because the answers are written in blood in the quoran,and they are the same,the IS is using for example when dealing with yezidis
Hanadi Hamza, Asyout, Egypt
03-05-2015 06:35pm
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expat-you are wrong, some honesty is required in this discussion
You say the Quraan orders Muslims to attack "Kuffars and thimmis" In fact you are wrong. See verse 8 of Sura No. 60 al-Mumtahana:8. Allah does not forbid you to deal justly and kindly with those who fought not against you on account of religion and did not drive you out of your homes. Verily, Allah loves those who deal with equity.
expat
03-05-2015 02:35pm
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Answer 5 and counting...
it is a real problem for the "official" islam, that the holy quoran,as you rightly states, is full of suras calling the umma to arms against khuffar and dhimmis. This is negotiated and twisted while these officials live in western countries, but the wahabis, as you state, follow by the phrase and word these commands. From Wahabis generate Salafeen, from Salafeen generate Tafiris and from them generate the IS....how many times for example the word "kill" is cited in the quoran? so,my comment on the freaky actions of wahabis etc is not meant to tell,they are misusing or misinterpreting the quoran, they use it by the word. And THAT's even scarier
expat
03-05-2015 02:30pm
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either..
the editor is too busy to cencor new posts or only one side is allowed to post here...i wrote 3! answers to this comment till now,where are they?
expat
03-05-2015 12:41pm
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either..
the editor is too busy to cencor new posts or only one side is allowed to post here...i wrote 3! answers to this comment till now,where are they?
20



Farhan
01-05-2015 10:54pm
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255+
I am all for freedom of choice but still
If man wants to force veil on his woman then he should be first to follow his culture and wear the native clothing instead of wearing Western suits and dresses. He must lead by example.
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19



anti khazar[NOT anti semitic!]
01-05-2015 06:31am
8-
2+
just a trick to divide us
WHY are we not understand that this argument about 'putting on the scarf OR not' is created by those whose are trying to separate Muslims ,broke up their unity like such as SHIAA and SUNNI!? In EUROPE and RUSSIA STILL women are wearing scarves, including my grandmothers ,as a symbol of being married and MODEST!!!!We NEVER questioned the VALUE of this TRADITION and we RESPECT the free choice of it.As always ,the KHAZARS are behind these so called 'movement of FREEDOM' for one reason!DESTROY OUR CULTURE,which is STRONG,brainwash the new generation,[easy target]!SPREADING homosexuality,the first seeds of it have been planted already in INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS!The REAL problem is NOT about the scarf ,it is JUST a TOOL and the FIRST STEP to DIVIDE and CONQUER !
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expat
01-05-2015 07:34pm
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nonsense
this discussion has nothing to do with jews/khazars or anything else...if you go back in history,to the 50ths for example,you will see afghanistan/egypt/turkey etc much less uniformed under the veil and they havnt been less good muslims...the problem started with the spread of fundamentalist wahabi ideas promoted through the oil money of saudhi arabia etc gulf nations...they poisoned the rest of the umma with their murderous tribal wahabism
expat
01-05-2015 06:16pm
1-
1+
nonsense
this discussion has nothing to do with jews/khazars or anything else...if you go back in history,to the 50ths for example,you will see afghanistan/egypt/turkey etc much less uniformed under the veil and they havnt been less good muslims...the problem started with the spread of fundamentalist wahabi ideas promoted through the oil money of saudhi arabia etc gulf nations...they poisoned the rest of the umma with their murderous tribal wahabism
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