December 16, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10382

Egyptian Journalist: We Must Oppose Forcing Schoolgirls To Wear A Chador, Take Action Before We Become Iran

December 16, 2022
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 10382

Pictures recently circulated on social media showed girls in a junior high school in a village in Egypt's Dakahlia Governorate wearing a chador, a long traditional robe that covers the head and the entire body, common in Iran and Afghanistan, known in Egypt as an isdal. The pictures sparked an uproar among social media users who regarded it as another reflection of the growing religious extremism in Egypt and called to fight this before Egypt becomes like Iran or Afghanistan. Egyptian journalist and liberals expressed similar criticism. Liberal writer Khaled Montasser tweeted: "What is happening in Egypt??! Have we turned into Afghanistan??! Does the Education Ministry agree to let our schools become Taliban schools?"[1]  Liberal writer Sameh 'Askar tweeted: "The school forced the girls in junior high to wear the Iranian chador. This is an act of child abuse and forcing the hijab on minors. The real achievement will be to hold accountable whoever is responsible [for this decision] and for financing."[2]

Conservative elements, on the other hand, including Salafist Egyptian preachers, came out against what they called "the secular media attack on the hijab." For example, Sheikh 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Atrash, the former head of Al-Azhar's Fatwa Committee, said that the pictures showed "a heartening Islamic sight and [a custom] that every devout believer should strictly follow," adding that Egypt is a devout Muslim country."[3] 

Similar statements were posted to Facebook by Sameh Bassiouni, chair of the Salafist Al-Nour party, who wrote: "Why this sudden outcry and uproar from these journalists at this time, just because of sights and behavior that gladden the heart of every Muslim?!... Stop shouting, inciting and spewing terms like 'Afghanistan' and 'Kandahar,' trying to scare society and the parents against teaching their girls to be moral and [well-]behaved and wear Islamic clothes that hide their bodies."[4]

Following the media uproar, the Egyptian Education Ministry launched an investigation to determine how the school had imposed this uniform, very different from the uniforms in other Egyptian schools, on its students for seven years.[5] It was recently reported that the Education and Culture Administration in Dakahlia had introduced new school uniforms in this school.[6] 

The girls at the school in Dakahlia governorate (image:, November 8, 2022; Al-Arab, London, November 10, 2022)

Against this backdrop, Egyptian journalist Sahar Al-Ga'ara drew a connection between this affair and the current protests in Iran, which broke out after the death of Mahsa Amini, a young woman who was arrested by the religious police for wearing her headscarf "improperly" and died in police custody.  Writing on her column in the Al-Watan daily, Al-Ga'ara said that Egyptian clerics have attained the status of sanctity and have an influence on legislation, so much so that the Egyptian regime is growing increasingly similar to the rule of the jurisprudent in Iran. Stating that the extremism of Egypt's Sunni religious establishment is no different from that of the Shi'ite Iranian theocracy, she added that the Egyptian people opposes this extremism, as evident from the fact that it toppled the government of the Muslim Brotherhood  in 2013. Hence, the Egyptians must now rise up against the practice of imposing the chador on schoolgirls, she concluded.

The following are translated excerpts from Sahar Al-Ga'ara's article. [7]

"What happens when a young woman in a theocracy rebels against the mandatory requirement to wear the hijab?  Look at what happened in Iran, and at the growing protests [there] following the death of 22-year-old Iranian woman Mahsa Amini, who went into a coma after she received a brutal beating at the hands of the religious police for wearing her hijab improperly. The drama came to a head when a man who had participated in the protests over the murder of young Mahsa Amini was sentenced to death for 'enmity towards God' and 'spreading corruption upon the earth.'

"Let's consider the terms that the ayatollah regime uses in its violence against the people: 'enmity towards God,' '[spreading] corruption upon the earth.' Are these terms any different from the lexicon of the extremist [Egyptian sheikhs] who accuse others of heresy, such as [senior Salafist sheikh Abu Ishaq] Al-Huwaini; [the deputy chair of the Salafist Da'wa Union Yasser] Borhami; [Egyptian preacher] Hazem Shuman; [preacher] 'Abdullah Rushdy, and their like?!

"I personally often hear expressions like 'fighting Allah and His Messenger' and 'seeking to spread abomination,' used by both moderate and extremist [clerics] to an equal extent, especially in describing the enlightened current [in Egypt], not to mention the term 'disgracing Islam,' which is heard from the official [religious] establishment!

 "True, we are very far from [becoming] Iran. But the [idea] of religious rule [in Egypt] did not disappear with the Muslim Brotherhood's government. It [still] exists among us and [its proponents] spread the notion of al-hakimiyya [God's sovereignty],[8] which was a key principle in the ideology of all the Islamic organizations that accuse others of heresy and engage in violence. Sayyid Qutb was one of the first [thinkers] who coined and spread this term, and hundreds of religious movements in the world adopted it and helped to spread it.     

"[But] the notion of 'God's sovereignty' does not [really] accuse anyone of heresy. On the contrary, freedom of belief is a key element of it. Religion must be embraced willingly, not imposed by force. But are we implementing this today? We have become very similar to the ayatollah [regime] in Iran, even if we replace [their Shi'ite] ayatollahs with Sunni ones. We have granted the mullah, the cleric, a status of sanctity, as though he is the embodiment of Islam. By doing this we have surpassed even the excessive [extremism] of [Iran's] rule of the jurisprudent, which the Sunnis tend to criticize. 

"We have left legislation entirely in the hands of the clerics. Therefore, they determine [the meaning of] the Islamic shari'a [i.e., Islamic law], in its broad sense, and constitute the religious source of all the rules legislated by the parliaments. This means that sovereignty is no longer in the hands of either Allah or the state institutions, but is in the hands of the jurisprudent [like in Iran].

"The point is not whether [the clerics are] Shi'ite or Sunni. [The point is] the principle of a religious rule that takes exclusive control over people's minds,  far from [the eyes of] the media, the education [system] and the law, and controls people through the pulpits of preachers and small mosques in distant villages. During the Muslim Brotherhood's [rule in Egypt], the beards [apparently a reference to clerics] came out and said, 'the people want to implement the shari'a,' and the only thing [that interested them] was the demand that women presenters and hosts [on television] wear the hijab. The rule of the General Guide [i.e., the head of the Muslim Brotherhood]  fell because the [Egyptian] people refused to turn [Cairo's] Tahrir Square into a site for implementing Islamic punishments for various violations [such as theft and adultery]. The people agreed on the need for a constitution and laws, which are a social contract between us and the regime. 

"This is why the enlightened current and the intellectuals oppose the notion of 13-year-old girls wearing the chador, common in Iran and Afghanistan, as their school uniform at the Nasha girl's school in Al-Dakahlia Governorate. I believe that most middle-class [Egyptians] oppose this garment, called isdal in the Egyptian dialect…

"If the isdal is introduced as a school [uniform], we will have [reason] to be afraid and weep over our failure to protect the girls in the religious schools, who must wear the hijab at a young age, before puberty, when they are not [really] required to wear it. Because this is child abuse and [an act of] objectifying the girls. It teaches the girls that they are shameful, prepares them mentally and psychologically for marriage when they are still underage, and teaches them that they are prey for pedophiles – and that does not please Allah and His Messenger.   

"I fear that these schools will produce the next Mahsa Amini, who will die for opposing the mandatory wearing of the hijab. I fear that the Islamic clerics will become ayatollahs, considering all the measures they have taken [which are reminiscent of Iran's] rule of the jurisprudent. But what I fear most is that my voice will not reach people, neither the rulers nor the citizens."


[1], November 7, 2022.

[2], Noveober 10, 2022.

[3], November 11, 2022.

[4], November 9, 2022.

[5] Al-Arab (London), November 10, 2022.

[6], November 28, 2022.

[7] Al-Watan (Egypt), November 15, 2022.

[8] Al-hakimiyya is an Islamic term which conveys that Allah is the only sovereign and legislator. According to this perception, today's states, both Muslim and non-Muslim, rule according to manmade laws and do not recognize God's sovereignty. Therefore, they are heretical states and jihad must be waged against them in order to free mankind from every rule except Allah's.   

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