Effacing Women in Salafi Campaign Bid
Published Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Egypt’s Salafis are becoming increasingly bold as they enter public life through the parliamentary elections and the media. But their controversial views, about the hijab in particular, are causing a stir.
As part of its electoral campaign the Salafi party al-Nour distributed a poster with the image of a rose instead of the face of their female candidate. The party told the public that the candidate wears the niqab (full face veil), so it would have been useless to have her photo on the poster.
Many Egyptians poked fun at the poster on Facebook. They wondered, how can the “rose” candidate expect Egyptians to vote for her when they don’t know what she looks like? What would she do if she won a seat in parliament and had to sit next to a male colleague? How would the people even be able to recognize her?
The campaign of mockery enraged members of the Salafi party, especially when the poster was photo-shopped, replacing the rose with a photo of a heavily bearded man. Salafis considered the incident to be, at the very least, an invasion of the candidate’s privacy.
Al-Nour party had already voiced religious objections to running female candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, they relented to include female candidates in their list because the new electoral law mandates that party slates must contain at least one woman candidate.
However the Salafi party listed the names of its female candidates at the very bottom of the slate, reducing their chances of winning a seat in parliament.
Salafis did not content themselves with simply voicing their anger at those who changed and mocked the female candidate’s poster, unleashing their rage live on air in televised interviews. Their victims were none other than the female anchors of the talk shows that hosted them.
It started with Reem Majed, the ON TV host of a popular talk show. Her guest was Sheikh Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi candidate for presidency. Live on air, he asked her to put on a veil.
He said that he only agreed to appear on her show because the topic of the episode was a political one, but if it had been a religious one, he would have forced her to wear the veil. When the channel Salafis Today uploaded the interview on its website, it cropped out Reem Majed’s face.
The same scenario occurred with Wafd party candidate Nehal Ahdy who was accorded the title of “Miss Candidate” due to her Hollywood-style electoral campaign picture. Ahdy was hosted by Al Arabiya along with Nader Bakkar, a spokesman for the al-Nour party.
Bakkar took the opportunity to denounce “liberals’ attempts to distort the image of the al-Nour party and to frame it with contempt for women due to the picture of the rose.”
Once again, when al-Nour channel posted the video of the interview on YouTube, it cropped out the face of Ahdy.
In another televised Salafi debate on Masriya TV, the issue came up during the show “Nassbook” (People Book). Its anchor Hala Sarhan had asked the Salafi Islamic group spokesman Issam Abdelmajed to appear on her show in order to discuss the topic of parliamentary elections. Abdelmajed, famed for his virulent attacks on the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, had requested to either sit behind a screen during the interview in order to limit his interaction with Sarhan or for her to wear a veil.
Sarhan agreed to Abdelmajed’s terms and her studio was divided in two: on the left side, there was the host, journalist Wael Kandil, and researcher Ammar Ali Hassan; and on the right side of the screen, Abdelmajed sat alone throughout the interview.
The first couple of minutes of the show revolved around Abdelmajed’s insistence on appearing behind a screen. Abdelmajed responded by saying that he did not ask to be on the show and that he was invited. His appearance therefore needed to comply with what he deems to be decent and worthy of him.
He then added that the veil has been a requirement for Muslim women ever since the era of the Prophet. He elaborated by saying that both the pope and the sheikh of al-Azhar refuse to meet with women who are not veiled.
Kandil insisted that the interview is being held in a public space and that “the topic of the show is of a political nature, hence the verses of the Koran that were revealed unto the Prophet’s wives do not apply to us here in the studio.”
He challenged Abdelmajed by asking him, “have you ever been on a plane? How do you interact with the flight stewardess without being separated by a screen?”
Abdelmajed’s said he disregards the matter when he’s on a plane because he has no other choice when traveling. He insisted that the situation in the studio is different to that on a plane.
The debate ended between Kandil and Abdelmajed with no result; the show continued according to the conditions set by Abdelmajed.
Finally, there is the incident that took place in the studios of Alexandria channel during an interview with the spokesman of the Salafi Daawa party, Abdel Moneim Alshahat. The host of the show, Iman al-Ishraf, consented to wearing a head scarf during the interview.
According to Al-Ahram newspaper, Alshahat did not object to the fact that the anchor did not wear the veil properly, saying “even if you barely cover with it, the important thing is that we are conveying our message.”
When they went off air, he jokingly told her “wear the veil now voluntarily before you have to wear it by force,” which angered the staff working in the studio, prompting the channel’s management to ask them to write a report about the incident.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.