Wherever Sharia experiences a renewed interest, the observable effect in countries far removed from one another is that tolerance decreases and harassment increases. Here we are again. We tried to tell you.
The existence of such a group aims to put pressure on the government to do it themselves if they don’t want freelancers feeling the need to step in. It also attempts to send the message that the “new” Egypt is to be an unfettered Sharia regime and act accordingly.
Suzie flops down on the chair and lets out a long breath. Quickly moving to her head, she unfastens her headscarf, the purple and silver head covering she wears during the day, and calmly lets her long black hair fall to her shoulders and down her back.
“I”ve had it with this double life,” she told The Media Line at her Cairo flat. “The problem is I wouldn’t have got my job if I wasn’t veiled so I put it on during the day and take it off at night before going out with friends,” she adds in perfect English, a hint of a British accent coming through.
For 25-year-old Suzie, who is Muslim thanks to her father, Egypt has become a dichotomy of faith and honor. Now, she fears the rise of online groups espousing to uphold the country”s “morality.” These “morality police” groups are gaining steam, and for many Egyptians, especially women, the idea has them fearful that the country could quickly turn into an ultra-conservative Islamic state akin to Saudi Arabia.
“We all know that these vice prevention committees are really a way to subject women to disgusting ways of life and push us farther into the house and away from the public,” Suzie argues.
Egypt is an oddity in the Middle East and with the recent gains being made by Islamic groups in the country”s first post-Hosni Mubarak election, many are worried that a conservative brand of Islam is already rising from the uprising. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Al-Nour Salafist Party have won the lion’s share of votes thus far, with nearly two-thirds of votes cast in their favor.
“That can scare people a lot, but we must all remain cautious before we jump to conclusions,” says Nehad Abu Komsan, the head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR). “I don’t think that many people voted for these parties because of a conviction toward them, but more because that was who was campaigning the most.”
Either way, they’re stuck with them now.
The grassroots Committee for the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue has adopted the name of an official government body that operates in Saudi Arabia. Armed with wooden canes, the Saudi committee’s paid operatives and volunteers patrol the streets enforcing the strict separation of men and women, conservative dress codes, public prayer and other behavior it regards as commanded by Islam.
Looking nervously at the Saudi model, activists and average Egyptians worry about what the Egyptian vice committee might bring as Islamist parties sweep the elections.
“I do feel the Salafists are powerful and have a lot of support because they have told people that the Western liberals and protesters are doing bad things like drugs and having sex. This scares people who believe them,” says cafÃ© owner Mohamed Yussif, who runs a small successful middle-class cafÃ© in downtown Cairo. “I hear people talk about our customers and say they should not be here, especially the women.”
Ehab Mousa, the head of Egypt’s Tourism Supporters Coalition, complained to the attorney-general against the committee, saying it would deter foreign tourism, a critical industry for the Egyptian economy. “Tour operators have had several reservations cancelled over the last days due to this statement,” Mousa told Ahram Online.
A month ago, Around 1,000 Egyptians rallied near the ancient pyramids on Friday to protest against what they said were threats by Islamic radicals to undermine tourism.
As the groups, mainly making a stir on social-networking sites such as Facebook currently, pick up members, the question is how popular they are and how much strength they have on the street.
Suzie contends that they have a big draw for the average Egyptian because of the conservative and religious undertones to their message. She argues that groups that build a mission on faith and Islam are “strong with people who think that anything Islamic is a good thing.”
The on-line group, named after their Saudi brothers, claims the great majority of Egyptians support their efforts, citing “millions of Egyptians who voted for the Al-Nour Party.” They argue this proves their support is not fabricated.
A democracy is only as good as the values that inform its participants.
The group’s official Facebook page — all administrators of the page are anonymous — claims to “preserve the morals of Egyptians in accordance with Sharia law.”
Already, Egyptians are reporting members of the group have entered shops, cafes and other Egyptian locations to lecture owners on the un-Islamic nature of their businesses, often referring to places that sell body-clinging women’s clothes and alcohol as haram, or forbidden in Islam….