Tunisia vs Egypt: The niqab-ban debate continues

Tunisia vs Egypt: The niqab-ban debate continues
The debate continues in post-revolution Tunisia and Egypt over the niqab-ban trend, with some arguing it violates personal freedoms, while others support it for security reasons.
3 min read
24 Nov, 2015
The niqab ban in educational institutions in Egypt and Tunisia continues to generate debate [AFP]
The Tunisian education ministry's recent decision to suspend a schoolteacher and a high school supervisor for refusing to remove their niqab [full-face veil] has sparked outrage across the country.

The ministry's press officer told AFP last week that the teachers were suspended when the women continued to wear the full veil after several warnings to remove it.

In February, the Tunisian government introduced a ban on the hijab [headscarf] for girls less than 12 years old, as well as a full ban on the niqab in all educational institutions across the country, including faculty and staff, not only students.

Many believe the decision violates personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, while others support it for security reasons, arguing that it could be used to commit acts of terrorism.
     After the 2011 revolution, the Tunisian authorities allowed women to wear the hijab and niqab.

After the 2011 revolution, the Tunisian authorities allowed women to wear the hijab and niqab, which were not tolerated under the rule of ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruthlessly repressed all forms of Islamism.

The interior ministry even issued ID cards for veiled women for the first time after a years-long ban.

In the wake of the Bardo Museum attack in March this year which left more than 20 people dead, including 17 foreign tourists, Tunisian public opinion has increasingly supported anti-Islamist measures.

Earlier this year, two women wearing the niqab were arrested on suspicion of spreading Islamic State group propaganda.

Following a series of such incidents, religious affairs minister Othman Battikh told reporters he would have "no problem" with a nation-wide ban on the niqab "if it posed threats to the society".

"Religion necessitates covering the body with a respectable outfit but does not require the wearing of the niqab as some believe," he said in April.

Fadel Ashour, spokesperson for the Tunisian Imams Union, said that he agreed with the ministry that the niqab was a "communication barrier" in class.

"Those who promote the niqab aim to create a parallel society that does not represent the Tunisian people," he added.

Tunisia versus Egypt

Social media users could not help but compare the niqab ban in Tunisia and Egypt.

Comparisons have been made between the two countries over different issues since the start of the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011.

"Isn't it a shame that Tunisia has banned teachers from wearing the niqab and children from wearing the hijab in schools, prosecuting anyone who defies the ban, while we in Egypt use the hijab to maintain racism?" one user tweeted.

A similar controversy was sparked in Egypt with the beginning of the new academic year in September, when Cairo University President Gaber Nassar issued a decree banning all female staff from wearing the niqab after students complained of "poor communication" in class.

     The niqab ban has faced more opposition and resistance in Egypt than in Tunisia.

Justifying the niqab-ban decision, Nassar told The Associated Press he wanted to "cure the disease".

However, the niqab ban has faced greater opposition in Egypt than in Tunisia. Officials from other universities across Egypt, as well as Islamic clerics and students, have denounced the move as discriminatory.

Presidents of public universities in other cities, such as Mansoura, Ismailia, Minya, and Qena, were among those who rejected Nassar's decree.

The president of Alexandria University stressed that wearing the niqab on campus was a "personal choice".

In October, 77 niqab-wearing faculty members at Cairo University began legal procedures to file a lawsuit against Nassar to protest his decree, a lawyer involved in the case told Aswat Masriya at the time.

In 2009, Cairo University banned both students and staff from wearing the niqab on campus or in the university's dormitories, but the ban was later overturned by a Cairo court after a university professor filed a lawsuit.