CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research said that no female student wearing the niqab will enter the university premises in the next academic year.
In a meeting with university students at the Qir Youth Camp, Minister Hany Helal said that he respects the niqab (full face veil) as an expression of personal freedom, but that this freedom ends when it violates the freedom of others.
“Every female student has the right to wear the niqab outside the university campus but will not be allowed to do so on campus,” he said.
Although there has not been an official ministerial decree to this effect, the minister’s words reflect an ongoing debate over allowing niqab-wearing students on campus, in university dormitories and even to attend exams.
His comments also come on the heels of a directive issued by the Syrian Education Ministry to ban niqab-wearing women from registering. According to a report by the Associated Press, the order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria’s “secular identity.”
Muslim Brotherhood MP Sayed Askar, also a member of the People’s Assembly’s religious committee, sees the issue as a mere diversion.
“It’s a way to divert the attention of the public from the major problems in the country. The state is deliberately complicating matter even though this problem has an obvious solution,” he said, noting that female employees should be tasked with checking the ID of students in niqab at the university entrance and at the entrance of examination halls.
“We have much bigger problems for the public and officials to be wrapped up in this debate,” said Askar.
Renowned Islamic scholar Souad Saleh, professor of comparative jurisprudence at Al-Azhar University, explains that the face veil is not a religious obligation on Muslim women and that this idea spread through weak hadiths (sayings of Prophet Mohamed) transmitted via companions whose credibility was suspect.
Last January, an Egyptian court ordered a stay of a ban on the full face veil in female schools affiliated with the Islamic Al-Azhar University.
The administrative court’s decision came a week after it ruled, on grounds of constitutional liberties, against a ban by the education ministry on women wearing the niqab in university residences and examination halls.
In June, 200 students wearing the niqab were preventing from sitting the spring semester final exams when the presidents of Ain Shams, Cairo and Helwan Universities refused to allow them entry.
The Administrative Court at the State Council has supported the decision of the three universities to deny these students entry, saying that the decision was consistent with the rules and regulations of the universities in addition to the fact that it is an issue of public welfare.
Recently, however, Fayoum University’s administration upheld a legal ruling giving a group of female students wearing the niqab the right to re-sit examinations.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) described the development as a move that “will put an end to discriminatory and punitive practices taken by universities against students wearing the niqab which contravene the personal liberty and freedom of belief guaranteed by the constitution.”