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Following the recent decision by the Egyptian government to ban the wearing of full-face coverings for women in Egyptian schools, several Telegram channels supportive of jihadi groups and causes published posts and shared memes criticizing the decision, with many saying that the move was indicative of anti-Islamic stances by the Egyptian government, with some calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian government.
A Ban On Niqabs In Classrooms
On September 11, 2023, as part of a wider decision on school uniforms, the Egyptian Education Ministry announced that female students would no longer be allowed to wear full-face coverings, called niqab in Arabic, in classrooms.
The ministry said the decision was based in part on a desire to maintain harmony in classrooms and reduce bullying and teasing. Head coverings, called hijab in Arabic, were not affected, and clarifications from the ministry emphasized that wearing the hijab remains allowed and optional.
Response From Al-Qaeda Supporters
A pro-Al-Qaeda Telegram channel shared a video of a previously recorded speech from an imprisoned preacher decrying efforts to prevent women from wearing the niqab, and imploring women to wear it.
In the video, the preacher says, in part: "None of our women will take off their niqab… To every niqab bearer, I say: Hold fast, Oh daughter of Islam, and look at Sumayyah Bint Khayyat, the first female martyr in Islam, as your role model. Know well that Allah's victory and His bestowed ease are near, and that falsehood is ending, and that the truth is firmly established by divine orders."
He also issued a warning to those who are against the woman's face covering: "As to those who are opposed to the niqab, we ask Allah to take revenge on you and to shake the ground under your feet."
The same channel also shared an image of a taxi driver who had placed a sign in his vehicle, reading: "Fare is waived for sisters in niqab." Commenting on the image, the channel wrote: "May Allah reward him. At least this man is braver than many of those with turbans and beards in standing up to the people of falsehood."
In another post published shortly after the decision was announced, another channel mocked the decision, describing Egypt as a country on the verge of collapse, and the decision to ban the niqab as an attempt to distract the people from deeper issues.
"Egypt is a country of collapse and decadence. Every calamity you can imagine exist there: extreme poverty and hunger; rampant ignorance and disease; corruption, from [President Abdel Fatah] El-Sisi personally down to the smallest institution; criminals run free, while the honorable are in prison; and the doors to corruption are wide open, with systematic fragmentation of the family, and complications to marriage."
It continued, mocking the decision: "Egypt only needs one thing to get out of this quagmire: a ban on the niqab. When they ban the niqab, the collapsed currency will compete with the dollar again, prices will fall, health services will improve, crime will decrease, and conditions will improve, becoming on par with developed European countries."
The post concludes by calling for the overthrow of the Egyptian government led by El-Sisi: "Demolishing and eradicating this tyrannical Egyptian regime is an urgent religious necessity that cannot be delayed, seriously..Even animals, livestock, and beasts will breathe a sigh of relief when this system is removed."
Around the same time, the channel shared another image, this one containing a quote from a professor of comparative Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. In the quote, the professor describes wearing the niqab as "non-obligatory and not a tradition inherited from the time of the Prophet Muhammad." He continues in the quote to support the ban. The channel calls attention to Karima's demand to ban the niqab at work, which is included in the quote.
In a post on his Telegram channel, a Canada-based jihadi preacher characterized the move as the latest in a war against Islam by the Egyptian state.
"The war against Islam in Egypt has become blatant and public, not hidden from anyone, a fierce war from the infidel authority."
The preacher pointed to several alleged incidents as evidence, from banning the niqab and demolishing mosques to persecuting worshipers and arresting "devout" sheikhs.
The preacher also pointed to supposed immorality legalized by the Egyptian government: "Legalizing all manifestations of immorality, allowing attacks on the Lord of the Worlds and on our truthful Prophet, introducing immorality in all forms to occupy positions and centers, and appointing heretical sheikhs of disbelief to uproot people from their religion."
An Al-Qaeda supporter published a post calling on women to disobey the decision, citing a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, and calling disobedience to the decision "an act of worship."
"My advice to all brothers and sisters of Islam: In any situation in which you can demonstrate your denial of criminals, do not hesitate. It was authentically reported from the Messenger of Allah: 'Whoever denies it will be safe'."
The post also contained the hashtag: "#NoToNiqabBans."
Islamic State Supporters
The decision to ban the niqab was also noticed on a pro-ISIS Telegram channel, which mentioned the development, but did not comment on the matter further. The channel often highlights supposed infractions against pious Muslims by rulers in majority-Muslim countries as evidence for the need of a state run by strict interpretations of shari'a.
Independent Groups Also Weigh In, Criticizing The Ban
On September 12, a Telegram channel affiliated with several independent Syria-based jihadi clerics criticized the decision, citing what appeared to be factually incorrect statements regarding the reasons behind its adoption: "A few days before the start of school, the Egyptian Education Ministry issued a decision banning the wearing of the niqab in schools under the pretext of some wearing it and carrying out terrorist operations."
Public reports did not mention terrorism concerns as part of the reasoning behind banning the niqab.
It concluded by suggesting Egyptians might revolt against the decision: "Will the Egyptian people accept the implementation of this decision that affects their religion, dignity, and chivalry?"
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