‘Veiled threats’ from Egypt’s nightclub owners
Alarmed at the country’s growing religious tilt, some businesses in Cairo are creating ‘hijab-free’ zones to attract a different clientele, reports Trends.
January 17, 2010 3:34 by Ashraf Khalil
It started as an innocent call to make reservations for dinner out with friends. A young Western-raised Arab woman, who has lived in Cairo for several years, phoned a popular Nile-side restaurant last year to reserve a table. Then things took an unexpected turn.
“The guy asked on the phone, ‘Do you wear hijab?’,” said the woman, who spoke with TRENDS on condition that her name not be published.
She answered yes, and the man explained that it would be inappropriate for her to eat there because the restaurant serves beer. Surprised and offended, the woman argued that if she had no problem being around alcohol, then it wasn’t the restaurant’s place to decide for her.
“Finally he asked, ‘OK, do you wear it normally or Spanish-style?’ ” – a reference to the practice of tying the scarf behind the head, leaving the neck exposed, she said. “The idea is that a girl who wears it is more relaxed about her religion” than someone wearing the regular neck-covering veil.
Thus began the woman’s introduction to one of the peculiar side effects of Egypt’s well-documented tilt toward religion in recent decades. Starting in the 1980s, Egyptian society has become far more overtly religious: Men have begun sporting the long beards and “prayer-raisin” forehead marks that boast intense devotion, while the practice of veiling has gone from a growing trend to near dominance in the space of two generations.
“I often find myself the only unveiled woman in the room,” said Madiha El Safty, a sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, who estimates that 90 percent of adult Muslim women in Egypt now veil. “It’s become sort of a national dress.”