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By Nevine Gamal El Bayoumi
CAIRO, Egypt ‒ In a predominately Muslim society where 90 percent of women wear the veil, Egyptian women want to make sure that it is still a matter of choice.
“I took off my veil because I don’t want my religion to be superficial,” said Nevine El Akkad, 32. “I’ve been veiled for five years now and I want people to know I took it off during the Muslim Brotherhood rule.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi won Egypt’s presidential elections on June 24, 2012. The Brotherhood is an organization that was technically illegal during Mubarak’s regime but dominated student unions and professional organizations. Morsi’s one-year term sparked criticism of Islamization of the state, and for the first time, veiled anchors appeared on national television after having been banned under President Hosni Mubarak.
Amira Mekhaimar, 29, works in a government building on a side street leading to Tahrir Square, the site of ongoing demonstrations and where Egypt’s revolution began in January 2011. She was hopeful after the revolution but worried that the Brotherhood would take over the country. “When we saw that the Brotherhood wasn’t joining us in demonstrating against the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), I felt they were traitors, and I jokingly told my friend I would take off my hijab if they ever took over Egypt.”
While Mekhaimar was walking to work one day she noticed a group of boys following an unveiled girl. They were shouting at the girl and cursing her, and yelled that from now on all girls had to be veiled. One of the boys had a whip in his hand and was about to attack the girl. Mekhaimar pulled his hand back, and he told her he was angry because the girl was a bad woman and not veiled like her. “It was then that I decided to take my hijab off. I felt I had to support unveiled women,” she said. Mekhaimar joined demonstrations against the Brotherhood’s rule on June 30 and has since then put her veil back on.
Egyptian news anchor Riham Said was forced to wear hijab in order to interview religious cleric Youssif Badri and chose to take it off live on television to show her protest, despite the cleric’s threats to shut down the channel.
“I told my wife to take off her hijab. I don’t want her to like them [the Brotherhood]” said Mohamad Goher, 54, as he conversed with a cashier in one of Egypt’s leading supermarkets about the many negatives of Brotherhood rule. “Anyone with a beard or hijab believes he or she is better than you,” he added.
Leading hijab advocates have pushed for expanding Islamic law in Egypt. “The role of promoting virtue and preventing vice is within the jurisdiction of the authorities and not with individuals,” said Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Muhamad Ghozlan, as reported by Reuters.
Many Egyptians, however, disagree. “No one has the right to tell me what to wear. It’s not a government’s job to dress me or undress me. It’s a matter between me and God,” said Samah Mohammad, who took off her veil as a way of rebelling against Brotherhood rule.
Most Islamic religious scholars agree that Muslim women should be veiled, as were the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. However, there is a debate over whether anyone has the right to impose these rules on women.
“There are five main tenets of Islam and although hijab is mandatory, it is not one of them,” said Amina El Gawahergy, an Islamic advocate and scholar. “A Muslim must have a choice and be responsible for it. How else will she be judged?”
Egyptian women took to the streets on June 30 to mark a year in Morsi’s presidency, and chanted, “I am not an atheist, I am not an infidel, I am just chanting against the supreme guide.”
Samah Mohamad waved an Egyptian flag and yelled at the top of her voice, “We are already an Islamic society; we don’t need a beard or hijab to mark us as Muslims. We will remain Muslims long after the Muslim Brothers are gone.”
Nevine Gamal El Bayoumi is an Atlantic Post contributor based in Cairo, Egypt.