NORTH COAST, Alexandria: For many outsiders, it s a secluded place shrouded in myth. Elite women, hidden away from society, congregate and suddenly emerge as sensual beings in an orgiastic experience. Some say it is a place for women ashamed of their bodies and who just can t bear to compete with the pseudo-models of the outside world.
For insiders, however, female-only beaches such as Marina s Yashmak (meaning the veil that covers the face) and La Femme, are no Forbidden Cities. They are simply convenient private beaches where women can be at ease.
I can do what I want where I want, says Shaimaa Yehia, 24, of her experiences on the private beaches. An Alexandrian, veiled Yehia does not belong to a club in Cairo, and so her only swimming options were to seek out isolated, and sometimes more dangerous, places along the sea.
I usually had to go alone and . . . [the private beaches] are more secure.
Yehia says she sometimes hears people criticizing the beaches as oppressive or showing veiled girls frustrations (through, for example, the often flamboyant, seductive dancing that takes place). While she agrees that the dancing is sometimes extreme, she disagrees with the comments.
I don t have frustrations . . . [if I do] they are not narrowed down to taking off my veil. Even if some girls may have frustrations, she says, this is at least an alternative venue for them.
Nihal Abou El-Yazed, mother of two grown children, is not veiled but is a loyal visitor with her friends to La Femme, going almost every day last year. I like to be free, wear a bikini, sunbathe how I want . . . watch the dancing, why not? Abou El-Yazed used to go to La Plage but complained that it was so, so crowded and that she felt embarrassed because people there are watching.
She also defends the belly-dancing ritual as good exercise. I don t think it s embarrassing or baladi . . . it s fun, it s an art.
Even males are beginning to understand why women wouldn t want guys ogling them and panting next to them, says one man who preferred to go unnamed.
The popularity of such beaches is even spreading to Italy, where hotels catering to Muslim tourists are planning on closing off private sections for women.
Of course, no good thing is without its critics, and Marina s private beaches are no exception. At least some of the sneering seems to be rooted in an attitude resentful of veiled women wanting to wear skimpy suits and dance wildly.
Some point to the passing jet skis and yachts, rumored to watch from afar. The weekly tabloid, Al Fajr, claimed to have taken pictures inside one of the beaches.
Of the more religious, some worry about the lack of observance of aawra, which means that women should still be covered in front of each other from the belly to the knee.
More practically, Yehia and Abou El-Yazed pointed to the continually higher costs involved, which have reached LE 75 for weekend entrance or LE 500 for season membership. In addition to the restrictive entrance fee, no food, drink (except for babies) or even water is allowed in, a measure which has caused at least several visitors to lash out at the security girls.
The high costs and restrictive location also ensure a certain class of clientele. Just because it is an all-women s beach, it does not mean the women care less about their looks. For many it is the only place to don designer bikinis while shopping at stands carrying high-end clothing and accessories. Some even go with full make-up and it is rumored that mothers go seeking matches for their sons.
Perhaps more people should stick to Yehia s philosophy that everyone should do what they want. Almost in response, Abou El-Yazed comments that at the women exclusive beaches, everybody is doing whatever they want. For many this summer, what females wanted was to enjoy summer days being sexy, dancing and sipping chilled coffees and cinnamon rolls away from male scrutiny.