Position of Egypt's newly elected Salafist MPs on women employees and the 'niqab' criticised

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 7 Nov 2015

Successful candidates of the Islamist Nour Party said they do not intend to deal with parliament's female employees as long as they do not wear the niqab, or full face veil

Nour party
Salafist Al-Nour Party chairman Younis Makhioun (Photo: Al-Ahram)

Nour Party candidates who won seats in the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections took many by surprise when they revealed their intent not to deal with parliament's female employees as long as they don't wear the niqab — a long black cloth that covers the female face.

On their visit to parliament's headquarters last week to obtain their parliamentary membership cards, Nour MPs refused to shake hands with female employees and stipulated that they do not wish to be interviewed by them while they fill in their membership forms.

Khaled Al-Sadr, secretary-general of the House of Representatives — Egypt's lower house parliament — told reporters that once the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections was completed and the results officially declared, parliament's employees, including female ones, were mobilised to receive the newly elected MPs.

"The role of female employees is to receive new MPs while they are coming through parliament's main gate and guide them to the Pharaonic Hall where they can to fill their membership forms," said Al-Sadr, adding: "But we were surprised that MPs affiliated with the Nour Party insisted on not shaking hands with female employees or being accompanied by them, or even looking at their faces."

Mohamed Salah Khalifa, a Nour MP who won a seat in Beheira governorate, told reporters that "Nour MPs cannot come into any contact with female employees as long as they do not wear the full Islamic dress, or the niqab." "This was our position when we were MPs in 2011's parliament and it should not come as a surprise to anybody," said Khalifa.

Khalifa said the Nour MPs will be in contact with parliament's male employees only. "This is part of our ideology and no one should blame us for this position," said Khalifa.

Most of the Egyptian parliament's employees are women. While many of them wear the hijab, or headscarf, others do not wear any head cover. Very few wear the niqab.

A female parliament employee by the name of Soha told Ahram Online that the behaviour of the Nour MPs was "shocking to all female employees." "Although we were simply doing our job and many of us were wearing the hijab, we were shocked by their behaviour which went so far as avoiding to look at our faces," said Soha.

Amna Noseir, a professor of Islamic Studies at Al-Azhar University and a newly elected MP, lashed out at Nour Party MPs, underlining that the niqab does not belong to Islam.

"Niqab is part of the Jewish Sharia (law) and by no means a part of Islam. But the problem is that Salafists (or ultraconservatives) in every religion are always interested in imposing their strict codes and taking them as reflecting as integral part of their religion," Noseir told reporters, insisting that "There is nothing in Islam that obliges women to wear certain head cover or certain dress." "Islam just asks women not to wear revealing clothes," said Noseir, who wears the hijab.

Noseir heaped praise on head of Cairo University Gaber Nassar's decision not to allow female professors to wear the niqab, due to complaints that women wearing the full veil couldn't effectively communicate with their students. Nosseir also charged that "the niqab is being increasingly used by women affiliated with terrorist groups to hide explosives and bombs."

"They wear it for terrorist reasons rather than for religious piety," said Noseir.

The Salafist Nour Party was able to gain 20 percent of seats in Egypt's parliamentary elections in 2011. While they were members of that parliament, Nour MPs refused to stand up while the Egyptian national anthem was playing. They also refused to repeat the constitution's swearing-in text. Instead of saying "I swear to respect the law and the constitution," they said "I swear to respect the law and the constitution as long as it does not violate Islamic Sharia."

In the first stage of Egypt's parliamentary elections, held between 17 and 28 October in 14 governorates, Nour Party was dealt a stunning defeat. Out of a total of 160 candidates who ran as independents in the first stage, Nour won just 10 seats. The 15-seat party list constituency of the Nile West Delta — or Nour's power base of support in the three governorates of Alexandria, Marsa Matrouh and Beheira — was lost with a wide margin to the secular "For the Love of Egypt" electoral coalition.

The Nour Party's female candidates wear long black dresses and the niqab and their photographs are never shown.

Nour official Salah Abdel-Maaboud blamed the party's loss in the first stage to "political money" and a hostile campaign against Islamists. "You saw how political money was buying votes in violation of the election rules," Abdel-Maaboud said. The Nour Party, however, faces accusations of obtaining millions of pounds in funding from Salafist movements in oil-rich Arab Gulf countries like Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

A campaign entitled "No to Religious Parties" led ferocious attacks against the Nour in Alexandria and Beheira, also urging authorities to dissolve the party in compliance with Article 74 of the new constitution that bans the formation of political parties on religious grounds.

In the second stage of the parliamentary elections, scheduled to be held between 21 November and 2 December in 13 governorates, Nour Party will be fielding 73 candidates as independents. It will be also competing for the 45-seat party list constituency of Cairo, North, Middle and East Delta.

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