What do Egyptians think about niqab ban at schools?

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The Egyptian government released a statement on Monday announcing that female students in the country have been banned from wearing the niqab, a face-covering veil, at schools, and the locals have different opinions about it.

According to Ahram, an Egyptian newspaper, Education Minister Reda Hegazy, in a statement released on Monday, said students have an “optional” right to choose if they will cover their hair at school.

She, however, added that if the students choose to cover their hair, they cannot cover their face.

“Any form of hair covering that contravenes the condition of the face being visible is not acceptable and the hair covering should be in the colour chosen by the ministry and local education directorate,” she added.

The statement about the ban that will be enforced starting from the academic year on September 30 and continuing until June 8, 2024, is quite straightforward.

However, Egyptians stand divided about the statement as they anonymously expressed varying opinions when questioned about the ban by Al Jazeera.

A 33-year-old marketing manager from Alexandria said he is against the niqab being worn at schools because it blurs what should be a “transparent” educational process.

“Anything that obscures teachers from properly reading the student’s body language and facial expression to be able to help them or show necessary attention should not be allowed at schools,” he said.

Another Alexandria local also agreed with the government’s ban, saying that the implementation of this decision is necessary from a security perspective.

“School authorities should be able to identify people going in and out of schools,” the 38-year-old architect said, adding that niqab-wearing students often feel alienated in mixed or segregated schools, and the ban may prompt some parents to transfer their children from mixed schools to female-only ones.

On the other hand, a 45-year-old writer from Cairo, thinks the government’s decision is the latest case of how women are used as “punching bags … socially, politically and economically”.

“Doesn’t matter under what pretext, or none … females always pull the short straw,” she said. “A story as old as time and one that continues to be written and many applaud/decry it depending on which lens they have slapped on to see the world.”

She said: “With France banning the abaya and the burkini, Egypt following suit with the niqab ban and before that the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade and the Taliban continuing to severely constrain and constrict females from basically living – the policing of women’s bodies continues.”

Additionally, a 33-year-old civil engineer, expressed support for women wearing niqab at schools “as it is part of everyone’s freedom”.

“Egypt is a Muslim country,” he said adding that he believed it would be difficult to erase the country’s identity with such a decision. The government took this decision “to enhance security in all the fields, which I find to be against human rights”, he said.

The statement announcing the ban says a student should make the decision to cover her hair “based on her own personal desire without any pressure or force from any person or any other entity other than the parents”, hinting at local religious groups and movements.

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According to the statement, parents should be made aware of their daughter’s decision, and it was also mentioned that the authorities will confirm the guardians’ understanding of the student’s decision.

Egypt’s hijab — covering women’s hair but not face — is widely worn, while the niqab is more popular among ultraconservatives. There’s an ongoing debate in Egyptian society about wearing niqabs in public spaces and educational institutions, with some institutions banning niqabs.

Previously, in 2015, Cairo University implemented a niqab ban on its staff, which was upheld by the Egyptian judiciary in 2016 and 2020, despite appeals, while recent niqab ban proposals were either withdrawn or rejected.

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