Egypt is quite a melting pot of extremes. On one hand, you have a lawyer who claimed it was a "national duty" to sexually harass and rape women who wear ripped jeans. On another, you have countless individuals who have voiced their opposition to the hijab, despite the fact that Egypt is a Muslim-majority country.
Over a decade ago, one of Egypt's longest-serving ministers, Farouk Hosni, called the hijab "regressive," a remark that ultimately pressured him into his resignation. Years later, Egypt experienced a déjà vu moment when Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris also, in a way, argued against the hijab. In a recent interview with Arabian Business, the billionaire started with the fact that "women are beautiful" and that if God didn't want them that way, he wouldn't have created them like that.
He then argued that if "God would have wanted them to be veiled, he would have created them with a veil." Knowing that Sawiris is a Coptic Christian, it was quite odd that he was even asked about the hijab. But his response wasn't exactly in its place either.
His comments flaunt the divisiveness over the hijab, not just in Egypt but in many parts of the Arab world. But Egypt is an interesting place as it has undergone different attitudes when it comes to the Islamic veil.
In 1994, the country's Ministry of Education enacted a ministerial order prohibiting girls from wearing the hijab to school at the primary level. Students enrolled in grades 6-8 were also required to submit a document written by their guardian if they wear the hijab. But then, for example, as many as 90 percent of women in Egypt were covering their heads (at least) in 2007. Fluctuating attitudes with regards to the hijab are more of a reflection of the politics of the country, rather than women's conservativeness.
A higher prevalence of the hijab has been assumed to be linked to the power of Islamists in Egypt. It's a complicated narrative that can't be explained in 300 words. The hijab's presumed link to Egyptian politics is probably where Sawiris' remarks came from. In the interview with Arabian Business, Sawiris actually said the Arab world is "plagued" by Islamic fundamentalists. Regardless of the intention, people were left quite offended by his statement.
Sawiris is known for being an advocate of secularism in a country that has experienced Islamic fundamentalism throughout its history, having co-founded a liberal political party, "Free Egyptians Party."
But that is not to say he's been void of controversy. In 2012, Sawiris was set to face trial for "blasphemy" after tweeting cartoon images of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in conservative Muslim attire a year prior. A court in Egypt eventually dismissed one of the two complaints brought against him in February 2012.
People aren't so happy with the businessman's remarks
And are telling him to concentrate on his own business, literally
"If that was the case, God would have created us fully clothed"
"Regardless the intention, the statement came off as borderline offensive"
Discrimination against non-hijabis in Egypt
It seems as though Islamic fundamentalists are still roaming the streets in Egypt in 2019. Earlier this year, it was revealed that women have been cutting the hair of other women and verbally harassing them in Egypt ... all because the victims do not wear the hijab.
There have been several reports of such attacks over the years, particularly in the country's metro stations. With the crowded platforms and inadequate security measures, assaulters have managed to escape without punishment in most cases.
The incident sheds light on a number of alarming issues plaguing the Egyptian community, including religious extremism, intolerance against non-Muslims, authorities' failure to sufficiently protect women, as well as the debates surrounding the face veil.
At least 10 percent of Egypt's 95-million population are Christian, many of whom have admitted feeling unsafe in their own country. "You always feel that you are ready to be killed or kidnapped, just being a Christian with no hijab," Nour Al Masery, an Egyptian Christian woman, previously told StepFeed.