A government bill prohibiting the veil is being pitched as an effort to fight terrorism
Egypt is discussing a new draft law that would prevent women from wearing a burqa (nikab) in public spaces as part of a government campaign against extremist interpretations of Islam. The burqa, used mainly in Islamic cultures, is the veil that covers a woman’s entire face except for the eyes.
On Saturday, Ghada Ajami, a lawmaker, submitted a bill in the Egyptian parliament calling for a fine of 1,000 Egyptian pounds ($56) for women who defy the proposed ban. The fine would double for repeat offenders.
Ajami stressed to the press that the purpose of the bill is “to support the state’s efforts in fighting terrorism.”
A copy of the draft bill obtained by The Media Line states that the burqa would be prohibited in Egyptian public spaces “at any time and under any circumstances.”
Public spaces would include hospitals, health clinics, schools, cinemas, theaters, public libraries, museums, and government buildings, among others.
Ahmad Sharbini, an Egyptian political analyst, told The Media Line that “Egypt is going through a period of instability because of radical Islamic groups operating within the country,” adding that the burqa creates a security problem as “many male and female terrorists use it to hide their identities or sneak into places.
“If passed, this legislation would not infringe [on] freedoms or go against religions,” Sharbini continued, stressing that “public safety and national security are more important than anything. That is what the Egyptian street is demanding from the government every day.”
He further explained that the burqa is widely used among extremist Muslims, which conflicts with norms in Egyptian society. “We refuse radical ideologies in general, and when it comes to Islamic law, women are not obligated to cover their faces, though it has become a tradition in some Muslim countries.”
Mustafa Abu-Sweh, a Palestinian Imam, related to The Media Line that the burqa is not mentioned in Koran, and Islamic scholars have long disagreed on whether it is an obligation or choice for Muslim women to cover their faces.
“At the end of the day, governments shouldn’t politicize positions against women who wear the niqab,” Abu-Sweh said.
In Egypt, the definition of a “terrorist group” has largely become synonymous with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2013, army general and current President Abdel al-Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of then-leader Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood. Sisi then passed legislation banning the group.
Egypt has since been plagued by a violent insurgency, which officials view as part of a revenge campaign by Brotherhood members or those sympathetic to the group’s ideology.
Since 2013, the Egyptian army also has waged a fierce counter-terrorism operation against an Islamic State-affiliated group in the Sinai Peninsula. There has been a concurrent upsurge in attacks on the Coptic Christian community, as well as on security personnel in the Nile Valley.
Last month, Sisi emphasized in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly the need for a “global war” against terrorism.
Ahmed al-Bouz, a Moroccan political analyst, stressed to The Media Line that if the burqa constitutes a major security threat for Egypt, especially in public places, then banning it is warranted.
“Any government would not allow anything to touch its national security and safety of its citizens,” he contended, before qualifying that Cairo must be clear on how it defines “fighting terror” so that it is not used as cover to suppress internal dissent.
“Balance is very important in this case. Leaders must protect freedoms and rights at all times, unless people violate the laws,” al-Bouz affirmed.