The year 2009 has seen its share of moral controversies which highlighted the conflict between Egypt’s so-called secular government and its age-old traditions.
The debate took center stage when rumors surfaced of a crackdown on people seen eating, drinking or smoking before sunset during Ramadan. Human rights groups were up in arms before the news was officially confirmed.
Last September, press reports claimed that police arrested 155 people in Aswan for not fasting. Although the ministry did not issue an official statement on the matter, one of its officials indirectly confirmed the news. “They should learn to have some measure of decency. In the past, Egyptians used to be decent. I hope they return to it, Deputy Minister of Interior for the media Hamdy Abdel Karim was quoted as saying in Al-Shorouk newspaper.
This prompted several human rights organizations to release a joint statement condemning Abdel Karim’s statements, and called on the Prosecutor General’s office to release a statement saying the arrests are unconstitutional, have no legal basis and are a violation of human rights.
Saeed Sadek, sociology and political science professor at the American University in Cairo, had told Daily News Egypt at the time that the government wanted to appease Egypt’s more conservative citizens by giving the impression that it is more conservative than the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, this impression was soon negated a month later when Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal banned the niqab – full face veil – inside Cairo University dorms and examination halls.
Helal’s decree came on the heels of a similar decision by Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawy who banned the niqab inside classrooms at Al-Azhar schools, educational institutions and universities.
Diaa Rashwan, an expert on Islamist movements at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the government’s interference in such controversies is generally inconsistent.
“The government that banned the niqab is the same government that bans novels that it deems offensive to Islam . Its interference in such issues is contradictory; there is no clear pattern, he told Daily News Egypt.
Rashwan explained that the government’s interference usually elicits negative reactions and causes a backlash. He added, however, that more often than not, the government “loses.
A case in point is a court verdict that rescinded the Minister of Higher Education’s decision to ban students wearing the niqab from entering the university dormitories. The verdict came after a group of Cairo University students and two lawyers filed a lawsuit challenging the decision and held week-long protests.
Rashwan also pointed out that the government is very “selective when it comes to taking action in certain moral controversies.
This explains why the government is yet to respond to calls by conservative lawmakers to ban imports of a Chinese-made kit meant to help women fake their virginity.
Sheikh Sayed Askar, a Muslim Brotherhood MP and member of the religious affairs committee, said the kit will make it easier for Egyptian women to give in to temptation. He demanded the government ban the product to uphold Egyptian and Arab values, according to a report by the Associated Press.
A prominent Egyptian religious scholar, Abdel Moati Bayoumi, had even called for the punishment of anyone who imports the artificial hymen.
Two months later, the government again ignored calls by Muslim lawmakers to cancel a concert they dubbed an “insolent sex party.
Conservatives launched campaigns against the government and accused it of encouraging debauchery.
However, against all odds, RnB diva Beyoncé’s concert turned out to be one of the best in the country.
Even though there appears to be no clear pattern in the government’s stance on such moral controversies, Rashwan believes that its interference should go only as far as the constitution allows it.
“Unfortunately, the government does not abide by the law as it should, he concluded.