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Hijab wearing television presenters are back on Egyptian television screens after years of exclusion
By Sister Iqbal Tamimi
In what was described as one of the fruits of the revolution of January 25, the Federation of Egyptian Radio and TV broadcasters has announced the return of Hijab or head scarf wearing women broadcasters onto television screens, after years of enforced absence.
Many media professionals welcomed the decision, and considered it as an apology for more than 37 women broadcasters who were banned from appearing on various Egyptian television channels after wearing a Hijab, considering this decision as a step on the way to reforming the Egyptian media.
Such discrimination reminds us of how things used to be many years ago in present democratic states such as the UK, in which until the 1920's women did not have the vote and were seen very much as the property of their fathers until they were married and the ownership transferred to their husbands. It was not till the Second World War that this position altered to any great extent and even today feminists would argue that they do not have full parity with men in employment, salary levels, property ownership, choice of clothing coincided appropriate and gender roles within domestic life
The Head of the Egyptian Federation of Radio and Television Broadcasters, Dr. Sami Sharif, and the Federation’s Supervisor, Major General Tariq Mahdi have taken this important decision following the Head of the Regional Channels Sector, Adel Mati, gave permission to veiled women broadcasters to appear again on television screens and to resume their old jobs and enjoy the rights they were denied for the past twenty years because of their change of choice of clothes.
The veiled television broadcaster, Lamia Fahmi Abdul Hamid, hailed this step and said “the decision is a victory for all veiled journalists”. She commented “the veiled journalists, like all other media professionals, are playing a pivotal role in managing their shows and help in running the dialogue to reflect the different points of view of the guests on their shows besides interacting with the public”. She summed her reaction by saying “a veiled broadcaster does not mean she is less efficient or less skilled than any of her other colleagues, and the final word of judgment of a broadcaster’s success should be for the public.
Unveiled television broadcasters such as Suheir Shalabi, welcomed the decision, describing it as “a just decision, and an important step of correcting the media policies’ path that has been marked by many mistakes over the past years, such as unequal pay and the reduced ceiling of freedom”. Shalabi said that she does not know of a valid reason for banning veiled broadcasters from running their shows. She claims, the Hijab does not reflect a "religious character" as it has been described by some; it’s rather a component of the Egyptian woman’s social character.
Iqbal Tamimi, Director of Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK, welcomed this ratification of legal and human rights, and denounced the policies of discrimination based on the appearance or age of journalists, and denying skilled veiled journalists their rights, besides the unethical policies adopted by a large number of Arab television channels of relocating veiled broadcasters and senior journalists to administrative departments’ and limiting their chores to working only on religious shows after years of brilliant journalism on current affairs and news broadcasting. Such as Kariman Hamza, the first Egyptian anchorwoman to appear veiled on Egyptian television in the early seventies of the last century, who was subsequently allowed to produce a religious programme only, that lasts for few minutes.
The State television in Egypt has refused for the past years to allow the dismissed veiled women to return to their jobs, despite the fact that they won a court ruling to be reinstated. The former Minister of Information Anas el-Faki used to say: "The veiled woman’s place is at home and not at a media establishment before cameras, because the viewer does not want to receive the information from a religious symbol”.
Some anchorwomen such as Camellia el Arabi have resigned under pressure following their decision to wear a Hijab while others such as Rania Radwan, Ghada A altaweel, Maha Medhat and Hala al-Maliki chosen to fight for their rights by resorting to the judiciary system and won when the Administrative Court cancelled the decision by which they were prevented from appearing on television, but the court decision was implemented only after the revolution of January 25.
Director for Arab Women Media Watch Centre in UK