At Carrefour on Friday I saw one of those super enthusiastic muslim convert types (long, blondish beard to tit level, short trousers, Nike Air Jerusalems, galabeyya, shawl tossed oh so casually and oh so carefully over his head) with two women dressed in full on neqab. I couldn’t tell if they were facing me or looking away because there were no outlets for the eyes in their face veils. Anyway how they choose to dress is none of my business even if the inability to tell which way a person is facing freaks me out. What really bothered me though, and what i had a visceral reaction to, is that they had a roughly 9-year-old kid with them dressed in neqab. It made me so, so sad and the whole experience left me wondering whether there is more of the Daily Mail reader or Linda is Turd in me than I would like to think.
I mean there are a million ways to abuse a child on the abuse spectrum. Perhaps allowing/encouraging her to wear neqab isn’t that bad. I think why it bothers me is that it sexualises a child, since for women who wear it, the neqab is an interpretation of the veil, which ultimately is about modesty. No child should have to think about that, and no one should be thinking about that while looking at a child. (In a possible inconsistency in my thinking however, the regular veil on a pre-pubescent kid doesn’t inspire the same reaction in me. I don’t care really, and some little girls probably put it on because it’s the equivalent of dressing up in mummy’s high heels. I think ultimately I find the neqab scary is what it is, in addition to the modesty point above. I don’t claim to have things straight in my head on this issue).
Anyway I don’t know what was going through Minister of Education Moheb el-Refai’s head when he made this pronouncement that veils would be banned in schools but as usual I don’t agree. I’m guessing that at least in part the regime wants to maintain the carefully calibrated mirage of secular islam it thinks it presents, in order to show the world EGYPT IS NOT ISIS OR THE BROTHERHOOD. It’s probably also a fuck you at the Brotherhood. Whatever its motivations, justifying it in theological terms is a complete non-starter. Yes, Minister of Education, let us dive into a debate about whether wearing the hegab is mandatory or not because that has not been discussed at least 789 thousand times in the past hour alone.
This is why successive Egyptian regimes keep getting it wrong. Unable and unwilling to fix Egypt’s truly serious and existence-threatening problems, they tinker with people’s private lives like a housebound grandfather sitting on a sofa interfering in his family’s lives because he is impotent to do anything else. They invariably pick issues that don’t really matter, aren’t that pressing, but which will piss people off. Sometimes they get it really wrong such as when they went on the offensive against swine flu in 2008 by culling Egypt’s pigs.
But this is yet another example of how the government fundamentally misunderstands/rejects human rights even if it and its lackeys bangs on about how it respects them more than America does etc etc. Human rights are about ensuring that states don’t fuck people over, they are an attempt to put limits on state actions. A fundamental aspect of this is individual privacy. How I choose to dress, or how I choose to dress my child is none of the state’s business (apart from nudity obviously, pedants).
If Egypt has suddenly woken up and been possessed by the spirit of French secularism it would do well to be aware that it has a completely pointless battle on its hands if these statements do translate into law. I would like to see this enforced anyway. It won’t be. And if the regime truly does want to change Egypt’s social fabric and do away with outward demonstrations of religiosity in Egyptian society Ataturk style it would be best advised to firstly, make profound changes to the public education curriculum, secondly, make religion an entirely private matter (e.g. by removing the religious field from official documents) and lastly, lead by example and e.g. make tangible changes to ensure religious equality. Since Egypt’s religious identity is muddled and confused and attempts to do the impossible (keep everyone happy) this will never happen. Regime figures will continue to come out with stupid edicts like this while, for example, enforcing blanket bans on the consumption of alcohol during Ramadan, a ban that applies even to Egyptian Christians.