Cairo lifted its ban on veiled women news reporters appearing on Egyptian state television, allowing the first veiled woman to read the news on state TV over the weekend since the station was established 50 years ago. The ban, formally enacted in 2002 under former President Hosni Mubarak, was slashed by new Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The ban was an effort by the former Egyptian government to present what it considered a modern face to the Egyptian population. Under Mubarak, veiled women were still allowed to work for Egyptian state TV, but from behind the cameras. Some went to court over the policy and won, but the Ministry of Information, loyal to the regime, ignored the rulings. According to Abdel-Maqsoud, 70 percent of Egyptian women wear the veil.
Female news anchor Fatma Nabil wears a hijab while reading the news on Egyptian state TV. (Photo: Egyptian TV/AFP – Getty Images)
While the ban on veiled news reporters was often criticized for infringing upon personal freedoms, its lifting has made Egypt’s liberals wary. Indeed, it is the latest move by the new Islamist government under President Mohammed Morsi affecting Egyptian media. Last month, Egypt’s Shura Council — the upper house of parliament controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood — appointed dozens of new editors to state-owned media outlets, most of whom are either Islamists or their sympathizers. According to journalists, some of the editors are censoring anti-Islamist writers.
Moreover, the office of privately-owned daily Al-Dostour newspaper, known for its anti-Brotherhood stance, was raided in August by officers without permits demanding to confiscate the paper’s print molds. Al-Dostour editor Islam Afifi was also arrested on charges of insulting the president. Afifi is one of several journalists recently accused of insulting the president and of inciting the public against the Muslim Brotherhood.
Critics in Egypt increasingly worry that the Muslim Brotherhood, with Islamist President Morsi in control, is gradually imposing its will over Egyptian society. They may be right.