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Egyptian TV host's comments on hijab spark debate, probe by media watchdog

by Ban Barkawi | @banbarkawi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 15 September 2020 15:12 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Women crowd around the window of a bakery to buy bread in Cairo March 17, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

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Presenter Radwa el-Sherbiny has drawn praise and criticism for remarks on the sensitive issue of women's dress

By Ban Barkawi and Menna A. Farouk

AMMAN/CAIRO, Sept 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Egyptian TV presenter is being investigated by the country's media watchdog after she said women who wore the hijab were "100,000-times better" than those who shunned the traditional headscarf, sparking a fierce online debate.

Women's dress is a sensitive issue in the largely conservative Muslim nation, and while some praised Radwa el-Sherbiny for defending women who opt to wear the headscarf, critics accused the chat show host of fanning prejudice.

"(Commenting) whether against hijabi or non-hijabi women is hateful, refers to a lack of respect and acceptance of other people and incites violence," said Randa Fakhr El Deen, head of the NGOs' Union Against Harmful Practices on Women and Children.

Twitter user Yasmine Mohammed said Sherbiny's remarks smacked of "internalized misogyny".

"Cloth on a head does not make a person better or worse," she wrote.

Fakhr El Deen said Sherbiny's words reflected the views of many socially conservative Egyptians about non-hijab wearers.

However, she said women who use the hijab and particularly the niqab - the full face veil - face discrimination in certain environments where the head coverings are associated with poorer, less-educated social classes.

The country's Supreme Council for Media Regulation watchdog launched an investigation after receiving an unspecified number of complaints from viewers who saw Sherbiny's show.

Sherbiny, who does not wear a headscarf herself, later apologised and said she had not meant to offend women who do not wear the hijab.

The presenter, who could not immediately be contacted for comment, also received messages of support from social media users who adopted the hashtag #SupportRadwa and said her intention to defend hijab-wearers was noble.

"Wearing a hijab in (Egypt) is hard these days because they don't find as many job opportunities and they're banned from so many places let alone the constant judgment from people," wrote Twitter user Amira.

Some bars and pools popular with wealthy or middle-class Egyptians do not allow veiled women to enter.

In July, a video went viral of a woman in a burkini - a conservative swimsuit that women wear to cover their bodies - being asked to get out of the pool at a resort on the country's northern coast.

Related stories:

What does it mean to be a Muslim woman? New book challenges stereotypes

New Zealand women face praise and protests for donning the hijab

Egypt TV show aired during Ramadan under fire for insulting women

(Reporting by Ban Barkawi @banbarkawi and Menna A. Farouk; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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