Egypt launches TV station staffed only by veiled women
A new satellite news channel, Maria TV that features only women wearing full Islamic attire has been launched in Egypt. Men are banned from the show, even on phone-ins, and all staff, including those behind the camera, also wear veils.
The channel’s first broadcast on Friday is one sign of the social change sweeping the country after last year’s uprising, which has resulted in a swing towards more hard-line Islamic values.
Previously, even though Egypt was already a conservative and predominantly Muslim society, women covering their face with a niqab veil complained of being routinely discriminated against for jobs, especially on TV, as well as in education.
Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai, who heads Maria TV, claimed that the channel’s existence showed how far the country had come since the uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
On the subject of wearing a niqab to read the news, she added: ‘I was told that it won’t work because of the body language. Well, the tone of my voice can convey my emotions and reactions.’
She said that she hoped that by appearing on TV in full Islamic dress, she could show people ‘that there are successful women wearing iqab’.
It is named after a Coptic Christian woman, who was married to the Prophet Mohammad,
Abeer Shahin graduated from the prestigious American University in Cairo but struggled to find a job because of employers’ aversion to her full Islamic face veil, or niqab.
But now she has found a job she hopes will change how Egyptian society views niqab wearers once and for all: she is going to work as a TV anchor for a new channel being managed and run exclusively by women who wear the full veil.
‘It’s unfair to deal with veiled women as a standard religious housewife. No, she can be a doctor, a professor and an engineer,’ said Shahin, wearing a loose black robe and a black head scarf that reveals only her eyes.
‘I was told that it (TV anchor woman wearing niqab) won’t work because of the body language. Well, the tone of my voice can convey my emotions and reactions.’
In an age of new freedoms in the post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt, niqab-wearing women long oppressed socially and politically are hoping for a new place in society.
Though Egypt is a deeply conservative and predominantly Muslim society, niqab wearers have cited discrimination in the job market, education and elsewhere.
There have been instances where some were even prevented from sitting their university exams.
Shahin hopes the channel will let people know ‘that there are successful women wearing niqab’.
Three veiled women sat in a salon earlier this week waiting to submit their job applications, while others were receiving television training ahead of the launch.
Islamists have moved to the heart of political life and government since Mubarak was removed from power last year, though the founders of Maria TV said that had nothing to do with their own channel, which had been planned as far back as 2008.
‘I am sure it will be attacked …They will say: ‘Why didn’t they start a radio station instead?” said Shahin. ‘This amounts to the exclusion of a sector in society that shouldn’t be excluded.’
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