I tried to tell you. Sharia Alert from Egypt: “Egyptian women fret as ‘modesty’ becomes election issue,” by Joseph Mayton for The Media Line, November 14:
[…] And, freed from the strictures of the Mubarak era, politicians are pushing forward on an Islamic agenda.
“It’s so frustrating,” says Marwa, who told The Media Line that she wears the veil in part because her mother wants it and partly out of the conviction that “it was the right thing to do.” But at the same time she is critical of politicians “who would dare tell a woman what is appropriate. That is un-Islamic.”
The two are typical young Egyptian women, who participated in the January and February uprising that forced out president Hosni Mubarak and put the country on the path toward democracy. But with elections just two weeks away, they are lamenting how women are being left out of the dialogue and discussion of the future of the country.
“We were at the front of the protests, getting beaten and supporting the future of Egypt,” recalls Heba. But now, she says, “Women are not being heard from and this is causing a lot of frustration among myself and my friends who want the ability to choose our lives and what we do.”…
The controversy over the status of women in post-Mubarak Egypt came to a head at the start of November after Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, a leading presidential candidate and Muslim cleric, gave two television interviews in which he outlined an Islamic future for the country that would impose Saudi Arabian-style dress and behavior on the public.
In an interview on the 90 Minutes television program, Abu Ismail said he supported what he called “Islamic dress” for women, meaning the hijab, or veil. Asked about what would happen to a woman wearing a bikini on the beach, he responded, “she would be arrested.”
Days later, he went on the Biladna Bil Masr program and lashed out at the show’s popular TV host, Reem Maged, and all other unveiled women in the country. He declared al-tabarouj (the failure to cover one’s hair and of wearing makeup) a “mortal sin” and said he would make such actions “criminal,” citing his interpretation of Islamic law.
He told Maged he wouldn’t have agreed to the interview at all because of her dress but said that in politics “things are different” and he has to meet with people from all walks of life. To underscore his point, a Facebook-based Salafist news outlet re-aired the interview with Maged’s head and face covered by a dark filter to “veil” her.
“I desire for you what I desire for my sister, and I admire your courage during the January revolution and I wish the next time we meet, things will be different,” Abu Ismail told his host inviting her to cover her hair….
In nearby Tunisia, which like Egypt has a largely secular elite, the moderately Islamist Ennahda Party won more than 40% of the vote for a constituent assembly last month, making it the dominant power in the country”s emerging democracy. In Egypt, 67% of those polled by the Pew Global Attitudes Project last April said the country”s laws should strictly follow the Quran’s teachings. Another 27% said that they should follow the values and principles of Islam….
If elected, Abu Ismail has promised to apply Islamic law to other realms of Egyptians life, which would mean closing down casinos, outlawing the drinking alcohol in public, forcing Copts to pay a special tax for not converting, and punishing women who would wear “immodest” clothes.
That special tax would be the jizya, which the Qur’an says that dhimmis must pay “with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (9:29).
For now, it is an uphill battle against the conservatism that has risen in Egypt since July, when the Salafists — those who adhere to what they call a literal interpretation of the Qur’an — converged on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in the hundreds of thousands, demanding an Islamic state for Egypt. Women saw this as the beginning of the struggle for their rights.
For Marwa, Heba and other women in the country, it is a fight for women’s rights. “We must stand against this sort of thing, whether we are veiled or not,” says Heba, “because freedom of choice is important for Egypt’s future.”