27 November 2011
Egyptians are increasingly feeling the pinch of a strong current of Islamisation sweeping the country. Even though many Muslims appear to be comfortable with it, many others—especially in the bigger towns—are chafing at it. Copts, for their part, feel wary of the phenomenon which they feel may be heralding in an era where Islamic norms are indiscriminately implemented in every aspect of life in Egypt.
Among the many incidents in this regard that were brought to the attention of Watani, we cite a few which were especially indicative.
In Cairo University, the Muslim Brothers waged a campain for the segregation of men and women. They used such slogans as: “Sister…be like the early Muslim mothers”; “Brother…acquire the same ethics of the Prophet”.
Islamic dress code, men and women
“This is not the Egypt I expected to find after the revolution,” an Egyptian doctor who resides in Paris and who was on a recent visit to Cairo said. The doctor, who preferred to have his name withheld, was forbidden access to the Doctors’ Club for wearing shorts, on grounds that shorts do not comply with Islamic dress code. The doctor was flabbergasted at what he described as the “weird” regulation, especially considering that it was a social club to which he was denied access, not a conference hall or the opera house, where a specific dress code is required. “If we are not to wear shorts to a club, then where do we wear them to?” wondered the astounded doctor.
The story brought to mind an incident which occurred with an uncle of a young woman who works with Watani. The uncle, a man in his sixties, was in the coastal town of Alexandria. It was midsummer and the beaches were full of holiday makers. Going home from the beach and dressed in shorts, the man remembered, as he passed the telephone company’s office, that he needed to pay a telephone bill. Without any worry, he went through the door and headed to the nearest counter. But he was stopped short by the screams of the veiled women inside who apparently could not withstand the [obscene] sight of a man in shorts. Without thinking, he turned and rushed out.
Compulsory hijab for Coptic women
A Coptic female student, Feryal Suriyal Habib, at Sheikh Fadl Secondary School in Beni-Mazar, Minya, in Upper Egypt, was banned from entering her school for eight days in succession, on grounds that she was refusing to cover her head with a scarf as a veil or hijab. The school social worker would not let Habib in, and described her uncovered hair as “immoral”. When Habib’s father went to school to protest the decision to ban his daughter, a discussion ensued and the school administration filed a claim of libel and insult against Mr Habib. Mr Habib, on his part, filed a formal complaint to Beni-Mazar prosecution, in which he noted that the school was embracing an extremist line of conduct, and had overstepped its lawful prerogative in forcing a non-Muslim woman to observe an Islamic dress code.
Wagdy Halfa, Habib’s lawyer, said the school administration had warned the Christian students at the beginning of the school year that they should cover their hair with a hijab-like covering. The other Coptic girls complied, but Habib and her family saw the order as an infringement on personal freedom and refused to comply with what they considered to be a move of forced Islamisation.
Habib was finally allowed to go to school non-veiled. Mr Halfa noted, however, that the Islamist current is marching full speed ahead in schools. A similar incident had occurred in a girls’ school in Ayyat, Giza, last year—before the January Revolution—but the Education Ministry took action against the school administration. “Coptic girls should not be forced to wear Islamic dress,” Mr Halfa said. “We wouldn’t like forced Islamisation to spread like a virus in schools.”
No work till after Friday prayers
In New Cairo, a satellite town east of Cairo, stands a shop that sells sportswear and casual wear. On a recent Friday morning at around 11 o’clock, the shop owner—who explicitly asked Watani to withhold his name—arrived to find two strangers talking to the workers in his shop. It was obvious they were asking questions, he even overheard one: “Is the shop owner Muslim or Christian?”
Once they left, the shop owner asked the workers what was the entire matter all about. “These two men came in and asked why we were open before Friday prayers. We said we were cleaning and tidying up. They asked of the religion of the shop owner, and we said he is Christian. We explained that we come in early to clean and tidy up, then leave for Friday prayers, then come back to work.” The strangers left, but not before they had threatened they would be coming back and did not wish to see the shop open before prayers. They also objected to the “immoral” posters on the wall showing men and women in sportswear.
The shop owner refused to give in to the threats. Yet he took care to secure his shop for fear of any attack.