An Egyptian lawmaker has called for a full ban on the niqab, or the face veil, in Egypt, reviving a longstanding debate over whether outlawing face veils would be a violation of religious freedom.
Amna Noseir, who is also a professor at Egypt's top Islamic institution Al-Azhar, has called for issuing a law or a government decision banning the face veil in all public places, saying it is not a matter of personal freedom, but rather a door to illegal acts and crimes, according to local news website Youm7.
Only a small minority of Muslim women cover their faces in Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country. However, most Egyptian Muslim women do wear the traditional Islamic headscarf, or hijab, as a sign of modesty.
This is not the first time that Nosseir, who was a member of a committee that drafted Egypt's new 2014 constitution, which guarantees freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites, has called for the ban.
Rights advocates say a total ban would violate women’s rights to freedom of expression and religion, with many calling it a form of bigotry against conservative Muslims. Supporters say the measure is necessary for security reasons.
"Women should not be prevented from dressing as they wish, and a wholesale ban on this form of clothing would be absolutely impermissible and unconstitutional," said Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information.
"But there can be guidelines regulating how women should reveal their faces to verify their identities," he said, adding that a partial ban where facial identification is required is not illegal.
The MP's remarks came days after a niqab-wearing woman, who was acting interim head of a state cultural house in the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, was let go from her position after a journalist criticised her appointment in a post that went viral on Facebook. A culture ministry official later claimed the decision was not prompted by her clothing, but was due to the fact that a more senior staff member was more entitled to the post.
In late September, an Egyptian administrative court ruled against banning the niqab in public places.
Under a 2015 decision backed by an administrative court ruling, faculty members at Egypt's state-owned Cairo University are banned from wearing the face veil. A group of researchers are spearheading an appeal against the decision, with the next hearing scheduled for 19 January.
Many Arab countries have restricted the face veil, including Tunisia, which has outlawed it in public institutions and government offices, and Algeria, which has barred women from wearing it to work.
Western European countries such as France and Belgium ban face coverings, while others impose partial bans including the Netherlands and Germany.