Culture +Religion +Society

Egyptian Journalist Invites Women to Take off Headscarf

A journalist invited Egyptian women to take off their hijab in a protest in Tahrir Square because hijab is not a religious issue but rather a political one.

Cherif Choubachy, an Egyptian journalist and writer urged Egyptian girls to take off their hijab in a public protest in Tahrir Square in the first week of May. He also suggested informing the police department in Cairo to secure the area.

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Hakim Khatib

Hakim Khatib studied political science of the Middle East, European Studies, journalism and linguistics. He has been lecturing at different German universities since 2011 on issues related to ideology and the interplay of power thereof in socio-political life, and religion and its relationship to contemporary politics in the regions of West Asia and North Africa, especially Egypt and Syria. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal (MPC Journal) since 2014 and has published over 100 articles in different languages, academic and otherwise, in a wide spectrum of on-line and printed newspapers, journals and think tanks. His current research focuses on Islam-inspired political ideologies such as Islamist extremism and Salafism, radicalisation, de-radicalisation processes in Germany as well as peace and conflict in the Middle East.
Hakim Khatib
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Choubachy wrote on Facebook: “I suggest that a group of girls would take off their hijab in a public demonstration in Tahrir Square in any day of the first week of May. The girls must be guarded by men to protect them and I will be one of those men.”

@ MPC Journal - A screenshot from Choubachy's video
Choubachy’s call to take off hijab on Facebook in Arabic

“Any society puts restrains against women doesn’t develop and this is the reason for this call,” He said. “I don’t call for a demonstration because I don’t want extremists and radicals to confront us with violence,” he added.

Choubachy expected the impact of this protest to match what Huda Sharaawi did in 1923. Huda Sharawi along with her colleagues took off their headscarves in public after they had come back from a conference in Italy. Many women followed suit and their story went viral at that time. Sharaawi’s persistence convinced many parents to engage in emancipating women from hijab.

At the same time, Choubachy published a twelve-minute video in a series he called “The Forbidden Talk”, in which he referred to Sharaawi’s incident. Choubachy considers the Egyptian revolution in 1919 a beginning of forming the Egyptian identity. He illustrated that hijab disappeared from Egypt for 50 years and reappeared in the 70s after the military defeat in 1967. The re-emergence of headscarf was associated with some concepts, which prevailed the thinking of Egyptian society at that time such as “we were defeated because we distanced ourselves from the Islamic religion.”

According to Choubachy, Egyptian girls were psychologically threatened, horrified and terrorised until they were forced to wear hijab. Headscarf, according to him, has become a form of hypocrisy. It spread so fast because of the strong propaganda of political Islam groups and their endeavours to establish a caliphate.

“Groups dominated by political Islam attempted to take over Egypt in specific because it is the heart of the Arab and Islamic world and what happens in Egypt reflects in other countries,” he said. “The issue is political and not religious.”

In explaining the link between hijab and morality, Choubachy brings examples of veiled-women in prisons by proposing the following: “If hijab was a symbol of morality and honour, how could we explain the fact that women prisons are filled with veiled women?” These women went to prison because they obviously committed a crime, he rationalised.

He also claimed that 99% of prostitutes in Egypt wear hijab, which means that hijab is not a symbol of virtue and honour. “The true virtue is in the heart and it reflects in people’s morals and behaviour and not in their clothing.”

In return Islamist groups and clerics condemned Choubachy’s call and considered the protest meaningless. Adel Azazi, a Salafi cleric and a former member of the Egyptian parliament, described the call as “nonsense”.

“Arab secularists try, and Choubachy is one of them, to create a contention between Egyptians and Islam,” said the Salafi cleric Mohammad Al-Abasiri. “This call is sinful and impermissible according to Sharia and girls are not permitted to respond to it,” he emphasised.

Waleed Ismail, a salfi cleric, wondered in a comment on Choubachy’s call by asking the following question: “Is he going to ask women to take off all their clothes in the future the same way he is asking them to take off their hijab for freedom?”

Al-Azhar condemned the call and described it as “degrading to women and it takes them back to the Ages of Ignorance (Jahiliyya). Abbas Shoman, Al-Azhar deputy, said that hijab is an “obligation” for women in Sharia.


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