Egyptian women worried as "modesty" becomes election issue

The controversy over the status of women in post-Mubarak Egypt came to a head at the start of November after Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, a leading presidential candidate and Muslim cleric, gave two television interviews in which he outlined an Islamic future for the country that would impose Saudi Arabian-style dress and behavior on the public.

In an interview on the 90 Minutes television program, Abu Ismail said he supported what he called “Islamic dress” for women, meaning the hijab, or veil. Asked about what would happen to a woman wearing a bikini on the beach, he responded, “she would be arrested.”

Days later, he went on the Biladna Bil Masr program and lashed out at the show’s popular TV host, Reem Maged, and all other unveiled women in the country. He declared al-tabarouj (the failure to cover one’s hair and of wearing makeup) a “mortal sin” and said he would make such actions “criminal,” citing his interpretation of Islamic law.

He told Maged he wouldn’t have agreed to the interview at all because of her dress but said that in politics “things are different” and he has to meet with people from all walks of life. To underscore his point, a Facebook-based Salafist news outlet re-aired the interview with Maged’s head and face covered by a dark filter to “veil” her.