Niqab Ban: im­par­tial de­mand for na­tional se­cu­rity or dis­crim­i­na­tory act?

The Daily News Egypt - - Front Page - By Ne­hal Samir


Days ago, a mem­ber of the par­lia­ment (MP) called Ghada Al-Agamy, sug­gested draft­ing a bill, stip­u­lat­ing ban­ning Egyp­tian fe­males from wear­ing the full-face cover, known as the Niqab, in the pub­lic places. MP Ghada Al-Agamy de­clared that who­ever op­poses the ban, will pay a fine not less than EGP1,000, which could in­crease if it is re­peated. Al-Agamy’s jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for this sug­ges­tion, was due to the se­cu­rity con­di­tions that Egypt is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­cord­ing to her tele­vised in­ter­views.

“Niqab ban­ning is an ur­gent de­mand, es­pe­cially after it be­came clear that ter­ror­ists use it to hide from se­cu­rity forces,” Al-Agamy stated. She also re­vealed that the bill is sup­ported by 60 other par­lia­ment mem­bers, not­ing that it will be pre­sented to the com­mit­tee of con­sti­tu­tional and leg­isla­tive af­fairs for dis­cus­sion.

Some peo­ple think that this bill is a type of dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tice against Niqab-don­ning fe­males, and that it is a vi­o­la­tion of women’s per­sonal free­dom. Mean­while, oth­ers see that this law has been lon­gover­due for years, and that it is cru­cial in the battle against ter­ror­ism. On the other hand, this drafted bill erupted the em­a­na­tion of count­less queries.They in­cluded if it was nec­es­sary to ban the Niqab, in or­der to main­tain the coun­try’s se­cu­rity?; is the Niqab re­ally con­sid­ered a threat­en­ing as­pect to peo­ple’s se­cu­rity in Egypt?; if this drafted bill is ap­proved, what will Al-Azhar in­sti­tu­tion’s opin­ion be from a re­li­gious point of view, as well as is this bill con­sid­ered a vi­o­la­tion of per­sonal free­dom?

Daily News Egypt (DNE) in­ter­viewed sev­eral ex­perts to try to un­cover some an­swers to these ques­tions.

Is the Niqab con­sid­ered a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity?

Hos­sam Sweilam, se­cu­rity ex­pert, told DNE that from a se­cu­rity per­spec­tive, it is cru­cial to bare both the hands and the face in or­der to de­ter­mine a per­son’s iden­tity and gen­der

“We have seen sev­eral male ter­ror­ists hid­ing un­der the Niqab, com­mit­ting sex­ual and ter­ror­ist crimes,” he noted.

Sweilam de­ter­mined that the Niqab is a aber­ra­tion of the Is­lamic re­li­gion, at­test­ing that “the wives of Prophet Mo­hamed used to show their hands and faces”, in­sist­ing that ban­ning the Niqab is a must.

He thinks that the Niqab af­fords an ex­cuse to com­mit im­moral and re­li­gious crimes un­der it.

Mean­while, Fouad Al­lam, a for­mer of­fi­cial at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ap­pa­ra­tus, told DNE that im­ple­ment­ing this bill will be dif­fi­cult as it will be fol­lowed by nega­tive re­sponses on both lev­els, do­mes­ti­cally, and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Al­lam elab­o­rated that the Niqab is con­sid­ered a so­cial prob­lem in the first place, but maybe it has a po­lit­i­cal side, thus he thinks that this ‘phe­nom­e­non’,” should be fought through com­mu­nity di­a­logue rather than by im­ple­ment­ing a law, as­cer­tain­ing that it is there­fore pos­si­ble to achieve this goal in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent man­ner apart from draft­ing a law.

Al­lam pro­vided an ex­am­ple which was that the pub­lic opin­ion in­flu­encers and the re­li­gious ex­perts must preach in mosques, sem­i­nars and con­fer­ences, in or­der to con­vey to dif­fer­ent fe­male cat­e­gories the ju­ris­tic view of that topic.

“The Niqab is a phe­nom­e­non with nu­mer­ous dis­ad­van­tages, the most in­trin­sic one be­ing crime, so Egypt must dis­pute this idea by so­cially prior to le­gal mea­sures,” he sum­marised.

If this draft bill is ap­proved, what will Al-Azhar’s opin­ion be?

Rel­a­tive to the re­li­gious con­text, Oweida Oth­man, the sec­re­tary general of the House of Fatwa (fatwa in the Is­lamic faith is a non­bind­ing but au­thor­i­ta­tive le­gal opin­ion or learned in­ter­pre­ta­tion that the Sheikhul Is­lam, a qual­i­fied ju­rist or mufti, can give on is­sues per­tain­ing to the Is­lamic law) in Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta, stated a year ago, that the le­git­i­mate dress re­quired for Mus­lim women is any dress that does not re­veal the body, but in­stead cov­ers the en­tire body ex­cept for both the face and hands, stress­ing that the Niqab is an Arab habit, and not oblig­a­tory for women.

For his part, Ahmed Zaria, AlAzhar Univer­sity’s spokesper­son, told DNE that wear­ing the Niqab is not oblig­a­tory in the Is­lamic re­li­gion, mean­while in­di­cat­ing that Mus­lim fe­males will not be pun­ished if they don’t wear it, but, on the other hand, if they do wear it, they will be re­warded.

In terms of the drafted bill, Zaria stated that im­ple­ment­ing this bill is in­com­pat­i­ble with Egypt’s con­sti­tu­tion, which gives cit­i­zens the free­dom of de­ci­sion, in a man­ner that does not hin­der pub­lic free­doms.

“I think that if this bill is ap­proved, it may very well be chal­lenged,” he stressed.

Al-Azhar Univer­sity’s spokesper­son called for pru­dent con­sid­er­a­tion of this bill be­fore im­ple­ment­ing it, and con­duct­ing a com­mu­nity-based di­a­logue, with the aim of reach­ing the right de­ci­sion most suitable for all Egyp­tians, and not only for a cer­tain cat­e­gory.

He pointed out that the de­ci­sion to ban the Niqab was pre­vi­ously re­jected by sev­eral Euro­pean courts, jus­ti­fy­ing their re­fusal by declar­ing that ban­ning the Niqab goes against hu­man free­dom, and the free­dom of choice and so on.

Note­wor­thy, since the an­nounce­ment of this draft bill, the Salafi group started blog­ging on so­cial me­dia via hash­tags such as #Sup­port­Niqab, and #Egyptwill­not­banNiqab.

The blog­gings of the Salafi group ranged be­tween le­git­i­mate re­sponses ac­cord­ing to the Salafis un­der­stand­ing to the Niqab, and hy­per­bole char­ac­ter­i­sa­tions of the case as a war against Is­lam.

Is ban­ning the Niqab a vi­o­la­tion of women’s rights and free­doms?

Di­rec­tor of jus­tice pro­gramme in the Cen­tre for Egyp­tian women, Gawa­her Al-Ta­her, in­formed DNE that she com­pletely re­fused this drafted bill, as wear­ing the Niqab or not wear­ing it is a per­sonal choice and a free­dom, ex­plain­ing that ban­ning it is con­sid­ered a type of dis­crim­i­na­tory prac­tice against women.

Com­ment­ing on the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of main­tain­ing the coun­try’s na­tional se­cu­rity, she sug­gested hav­ing a fe­male se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in ev­ery­where, who could con­firm the iden­tity of the Niqab­wear­ing women be­fore en­ter­ing any in­sti­tu­tion.

“Ban­ning the Niqab is not an im­par­tial ne­ces­sity for na­tional se­cu­rity, but rather a dis­crim­i­na­tory ac­tion,” she de­ter­mined, not­ing that Egypt`s con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates no dis­crim­i­na­tion be­tween peo­ple.

“Have all of Egypt’s prob­lems have been solved,and the re­main­ing prob­lem that is still on hand is the Niqab?,” she won­dered.

Al-Ta­her stated that she never heard of any ter­ror­ist crimes com­mit­ted by a man wear­ing the Niqab.

Fi­nally, Al-Ta­her was pos­i­tive that this bill will not be ap­proved as it is con­sid­ered as un­con­sti­tu­tional

Dis­agree­ing with Al-Ta­her, Farida Al-Nakash, a jour­nal­ist and a women’s advocate, said that the Niqab is con­sid­ered a dan­ger to so­ci­ety, ex­plain­ing that there are known and recorded in­ci­dents when men dis­guised them­selves un­der the Niqab to com­mit crimes.

“There­fore,I am in to­tal agree­ment of com­pletely ban­ning the Niqab, hop­ing that so­ci­ety—es­pe­cially the po­lit­i­cal col­lec­tive— ac­cepts this ban, view­ing it as an no­tion of a so­cial lib­erty and not as a vi­o­la­tion of per­sonal pri­vacy or free­doms.”

By ask­ing Al-Nakash about the fast that some peo­ple think that this bill is a dis­crim­i­na­tory, she asked “in or­der not to be ac­cused of dis­crim­i­nat­ing against peo­ple, shall we al­low peo­ple to carry weapons in the streets?”

She elab­o­rat­ing by declar­ing that the Niqab is a form of a weapon, be­cause it hides many facts about a per­son, such the in­di­vid­ual’s gen­der and whether they are armed or un­armed.

Al-Nakash is cer­tain that ban­ning the Niqab will pro­tect so­ci­ety as well as pro­tect its free­doms.

Be­tween the opin­ions of AlNakash’s and Al-Ta­her’s, emerges Ge­orge Ishak’s opin­ion—a mem­ber of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Hu­man Rights— who be­lieves that it’s a per­sonal free­dom to wear what­ever one wants, how­ever, in some places and pro­fes­sions, it is a must to ban the Niqab. For ex­am­ple, as a teacher, the most im­por­tant el­e­ment in teach­ing is com­mu­ni­cat­ing with chil­dren, not­ing that the best com­mu­ni­ca­tion method is through fa­cial ex­pres­sions,which is why ban­ning the Niqab in that pro­fes­sion is a must.

How­ever, he stated that im­ple­ment­ing this bill will be dif­fi­cult as Egypt is still suf­fer­ing from the pres­ence of re­gres­sive in­tel­lec­tual think­ing by some peo­ple in so­ci­ety.

After an­swer­ing the above ques­tions, the only re­main­ing ques­tion that still needs to be an­swered, is un­til when will the Niqab topic be a con­tro­ver­sial is­sue? Whether the bill is im­ple­mented or not, the di­vided opin­ions con­cern­ing this topic re­main.

Di­rec­tor of jus­tice pro­gramme in the Cen­tre for Egyp­tian women, Gawa­her Al-Ta­her.

Ge­orge Ishak, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Coun­cil for Hu­man Rights

Farida Al-Nakash, jour­nal­ist and women`s advocate

Fouad Al­lam, a for­mer of­fi­cial of the na­tional se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus

Ahmed Zaria, Al-Azhar Univer­sity’s Spokesper­son

Se­cu­rity ex­pert, Hos­sam Sweilam.

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