December 4, 2008

Egypt… bigotry hidden under thick layers of religious and liberal pretences

Coming from a religiously conservative family, I was brought up to take extra pride in my faith, even though I did not necessarily understand it enough to practice it properly. Almost everyone in my family (from both sides) has a meaningful name influenced by religion.

My dad gave my sisters and me very unique names that make people go “ohhhh” when they know our names; they are simple, short and have quite the religious significance.

Mine however is not exclusively Islamic, it goes back to Jewish origins; a fact which makes it easier to pronounce than my sisters’. My father’s name on the other hand is esm morrakab; meaning, he has two names to count as a first name, more like the western verion of middle names, only everyone I know acknowledges his second name since the first is Mohamed, which is pretty common in our culture.

Until college, I used to go by my first name and my father’s middle name. That combination made my name sound perfectly neutral; people couldn’t guess my religion and accordingly treated me cautiously in fear of offending me.

I won’t go through with the whole issue of whether religious tolerance exists in Egypt or not; it’s fair to say that some people (either Christians or Muslims) are tolerant of the other religion, while some others simply aren’t. As a child, it was confusing, and it led to a huge deal of misconceptions that took me quite some time to overcome (not in a traumatizing way though).

I resented by name, because it made people ask me too many questions. I really wanted a simpler name that did not raise so much questions and wonderings before people started getting comfortable.

Until I got veiled!

I was confronted by how cruel society can be, judging people by their looks. I realized that my neutral name and non-significant appearance shielded me from awkward moments. I realized it was a blessing having been treated with extra caution!

And no, it’s not the expected group of people who judged me, whatever that is. Against the general assumption, I travelled to the US the next summer, and I barely had any troubles because of my veil. Average Americans, aside from the “notorious” political agenda (which is not up to me to support or condemn), do not judge people based on their looks the way people do in Egypt (and perhaps the Middle East). We are such racists and bigots and the sad part is that we hide it under thick layers of fake religiousness and liberalism which we barely practice when unwatched.

Please meet those who judge me…

- Strictly religious Muslims who consider what I wear not hijab, and expect me to dress more modestly, and
- Pseudo-Liberals, either Christians or Muslims who seem to be very appalled by my veil!

Now I won’t go defending my choice or my religion because I don’t think those who judge me or my likes would either understand or appreciate what I have to say. All I can say is “SHAME ON YOU”, both parties.

Religious Muslim Practicers”, you should know that “الأعمال بالنيات”, you should know that “الدين يسر، و ليس عسر”, you should “بشروا و لا تنفروا”, and if I am that offensive to look at, you can totally “غض البصر”!!

And “Liberals”, shame shame shame, the people who had passed the “liberal heritage” to you fought for big notions like “freedom of choice” that should be accepted without consequences, but what can I say, you were obviously never involved in such fights and simply cannot appreciate the trophy, freedom!!

I find both parties hypocrites, who miserably fail practicing what they preach and give their causes a horrible horrible names.

It used to hurt and offend me when I felt mistreated because of my veil, but then I realized something; it’s a unique way of blocking all the fakers and pretenders who can’t handle but judge me based on my appearance rather than my personality. To those people, I say it’s really your loss, touché!


Eventuality said...

Once I applied for a job and they called me saying they really liked my CV etc. and then the lady asks "Are you veiled?" my answer was affirmative, so she goes "Oh...sorry but we can't hire veiled women for this position"

I was applying for the position of editor for a real estate magazine. I did not know that this job required hair :)

But you're right, being veiled really puts off people who are intolerant, which really saves the effort of having to filter them out later on.

insomniac said...

"I did not know that this job required hair :)"

That made me laugh :)

I understand how appearance matters in almost all jobs, but in a presentable way, who said not showing hair makes u less presentable!!!

same thing happened with my sis when she applied for a teaching job in L'Oasis (yes i am mentioning their name for the purpose of disclosure, they earned it, my blog, my rules)... her interviewer said she was a good candidate but he was not sure they hired "mo7agabat", and referred her to another school, El Orouba!!

i have decided to compile a list of places that do not allow veiled women in and post it... it's more of a vengeance thing since i am a big fan of vindictive plots :) and also it's my own way of doing something about the things i dislike instead of just ranting about them.

Deeeeeee said...

It is another social plague! However, a veil is something to wear with pride. However I find it revolting that the people who judge are either people with "too much religion" and our religion forbids it and people with "too much brain-power" and COMMON SENSE forbids it!

Eventuality said...

Yes exactly, being presentable has nothing to do with whether you cover your hair or not.

Since you're in a vindictive mood, they were ERA Real Estate hehe :D

insomniac said...


that's exactly what i'm saying...


Good Job :))) i can see i am not the only one with an agenda ;))) the list is in the making :)

Marwa Rakha said...

Thank you Insomniac

rasha said...

Eve, believe me when i say ERA is no good and actually they have done you a huge favor.

Flipping the coin, When I was asked to join my company almost two years ago, I was informed that they will not hire unveiled women which seemed back then as a great thing because i was veiled for years and it felt great to be appreciated as I am...when i hired assistants I made sure the recruitment company knew that Veiled will be accepted and let me tell you the Lady in charge was impressed and she said: Well, that's great...most companies prefer unveiled employees...elghareeb ba2a, when she presented a candidate and sent me her assessment I found an average grade of 3 in the appearance section...but when i met the girl she was very elegant so the remark intrigued me to ask the recruiter...she said: in our field, veiled can't take the score of 5...they are always average no matter how well they dressed!

frankly, and because lately the matter was an issue for me, when i thought what would happen if I took off my veil at work and realized that it would be impossible for me to sustain my position...I felt puzzled.

Is it right to force our own beliefs what ever they are on anyone???

the answer is: NO!

batates_777 said...

I am glad That I passed by your blog today ! thanks to globalvoices :)
surprisingly , I checked some blog / group yesterday which only been created to swear the Hijabiis / veiled women ...the blog and group are full of crap really ! it is like a cosiperacy theory ! where they are tryin to convince many as they can to take off their veils !!
and here I pass by your blog today to tell the facts veiled women live in !
why do they claim its a free country and its okay for them to see girls almost naked walkin down streets and not okay if shes covered up !!

Adam said...

We all judge by looks...even animals are not spared.

insomniac said...


ur welcome!


omG, no matter how fancy i dress i won't get a 5!! OH MY GOD!! u need to tell me that all that shopping and i won't get a 5!!! i have no purpose in life, LOL....

sorry hun, i had to make fun of the recruiter's policy... question tho? who puts those rules and criteria to evaluate appearance??!!! so what, if a woman is not veiled and she's color blind (not the medical case, but rather deprived from the sense of wearing matching colors), she gets a 3!! man, people are so screwed!! i am so glad i work with people who appreciate my skills!!


welcome to the blog :)

my sis was telling me days ago about a group on FB targeting and trashing niqabi women! although i would not choose to wear niqab, i would hate to see how others would be trashed for their choice...

makes me think how trashy those who label others so shamelessly and actually brag about it... ellet adab we baga7a!!

it's not a free country... the one thing that makes such trashers get that space to express their intolerance is the fact that the country allows them... in industries like media and tourism, there is barely enough room for veiled women, and i mean tv hostesses in the egyptian TV, other than in religious shows, and hotel lobbyists and receptionists... the country and it's screwed system allows people to show their bigotry because they know they can get away with it!


why always cynical?????

yes, looks matter to all of us... yes, they make a huge difference in first impressions... but i think we should be evolved enough to see beyond looks and appearances and not let them define our judgements of others...

in the whole veil case, i think it's more than judging by looks, it's already having a preconceived expectation of a veiled woman, a fixed stereotype that that veiled woman thinks in a certain way and the fact that the veil is visual it blocks any chances of getting to know what that veiled woman really thinks or how she is!!!

i mean, among the people i have got to know through that blog, most told me phrases like "we would have never guessed ur mo7agaba!!"... although most of those are genuinely nice people, one can't help but wonder what kind of expectations do they have of a veiled girl!!

Anonymous said...

So what do you say of a four-primer who wants to get veiled? an infant with utterly no erotica, whose good or bad deeds are yet not recorded.

If I'm a pseudo-liberal, as you rightly put it, I'll say yes, defending my yet pretentious liberalism, as to hell with what you do or not. If I'm a bigot, I'd confirm too, defending an enhancement of religious faith in little buds by training, an Azharian way of expressing a precocious orthodoxy.
But to neither bigots nor pseudo-liberals, such tendency in a four primer is extravagantly useless, msh kda? What Hijab has to do with a child, except in societies of epidemical pedophilia :p.

If you agreed on such point, then I think you'd agree all the same on another, which says that Hijab has an essence, reasons and causes, in Islam, that is logically conversational to the mind. Because if Hijab is useless for a primer, then it is useful for an adult. And I think that Hijab should be treated in separate terms independent of mainly one theme, appearances.

I do think that if we insist to speak of appearances in parallel to the issue of Hijab, then we should mean by that an essentially individual idiosyncrasies, as to the colors chosen by every woman individual, whether she prefers to wear tailleurs or jilbabs, or pantaloons with longs tunics, when the Hijab of each is in accordance with Islamic rules.

For neither am I a bigot, nor pseudo-liberal, but we can't deny the questioning as to the originality of Hijab, when it is the same as Hijablessness, with one exception, that is the head-cover. Because it reduces at least one aspect of our religion to the so-called appearances, when we are fighting so hard against it, doesn't it? I mean if a westerner, or a true liberal(because they're not synonyms in most cases as we imagine) eyes such a thing, he/she will question whether it is mere orders obeyed(and that's all), or is it a command that have at least some logic or quasi-logic in it?
I, for myself, do not that think that our religion is just a bunch of rituals.

I do stress on the message. A non veiled would never be looked upon as one who at least symbolizes something, especially these times, when the majority are veiled.

And it is like a fuming faster(of course I do not judge people, because I loathe being judged) because Hijab isn't transparent, nor descriptive, and of course doesn't expose.

Sorry for the length but it couldn't be much shorter. I used to read your blog from time to time, but since I discovered that the English Patient makes of you a weeper too I've become a semi-regular. :)

Sherif said...

It's really exhausting.. it sucks us to keep talking about it relentlessly .. the veil

This is something absolutely personal .. if you think this keeps you peace mind so, ok do it. If it doesn't.. simply leave it. Most important is to feel comfortable.

You want to get into a debate? ok .. ask any religous.. why was the veil not imposed on slave girls? and why only free women?

Did the same aya for hejab exempt them? you'll hardly find an answer.

Dear .. forget about who thinks what .. it's all about you.

insomniac said...

anon (i would really prefer if you pick up a nick and stick to it)

since you're a fellow English Patient fan, i will just be as open minded as i can be about the points you raised...

first of all, my post was not meant to discuss hijab, its purpose, or its origin for that matter...

in case the title was not clear enough despite its length, let me say what the post was about: it was about how bigotry in Egypt is hidden behind religion (or malpractice of it in that case), and liberalism (what i referred to as pseudo-liberalism, since to me liberalism is all about respecting freedom of choice when others practice it, not just when we do)... egypt has extremists who use those slogans, religion and liberalism to convey such hateful bigotry and ability to condemn others based on whatever it is they have against them...

in my case it was my veil, which is part of my appearance...

the reason i used veil was because normally, some people in egypt would even judge based on a name, i did not have to go through this for a while when nothing about my name or my appearance, either looks wise or dress code wise conveyed my faith or background!

now, had i had a bit of tanned skin or even what ppl refer to as "samar", i could have been labeled "samra", which is not always a good thing in our culture!!!!!

i meant appearance as appearance, aside from any religious affiliations, like i said, hijab just happened to be the things shaping my experience!

now whether i think it's right or wrong for a little 8 year old to be veiled, should not in any way influence what i think of her or her background... yes, my own perception of her being veiled will affect how i perceive her at first, but i should control it if i am half as righteous as i claim to be!

it's not my place to discuss hijab from a religious point of view or explain things that are probably beyond me to speak of... of course i praise and respect it, otherwise i wouldn't be wearing it... but i do not and i will never condemn those who do not wear it... otherwise, i would be doing the exact same thing as those who stereotype me for it! FYI, my best friend is not veiled, and there is no one in the world that i respect and trust more.

to sum this up....

- i did not see the example of a veiled 8 year old girl of any relevance to my post, unless of course you thought i was 8!!

- you referred to pseudo liberals as pseudo liberals, but you referred to strictly religious ppl as bigots, was that on purpose??? because in this post both parties ARE bigots....

- if non-veiled women are "preferred" because "A non veiled would never be looked upon as one who at least symbolizes something, especially these times, when the majority are veiled.", then wouldn't this be discrimination against what you claimed was the majority!!!! it does not make sense to me...

- i doubt hijab is solely about appearance, but i also have serious doubts one can deny it is part, a very significant part of appearances... you know it's something that shows in one's looks!!!!

i guess that was about it...

insomniac said...

Sherif :)

as i mentioned above, i did not mean to discuss hijab; it was simply the highlight of a bigger problem, bigotry...

you are already a regular reader here, you probably noticed i rarely care about what others think as long as i have my own peace :))) i just lose respect for people who stereotype me or have a specific impression of me because of what i choose to wear!

thanks :)

hurricane_x said...

I dunno why is being veiled or not is such an issue when dealing with others.
And we all know "2elmasayeb" in both parties veiled or not!
Same for men too..!

Damn it, that made me feel extremely provoked when dealing with people who seem religious. I can't no longer differentiate between the good and the bad ones based on their appearance and general apparent behaviour.

I like this post :)

insomniac said...

that's exactly my point, we can't really claim if someone is good or bad based on their name, religion or appearance; there is more to some one's character than just that... not to mention personal preference and compatibility, like someone could be quite decent but you would have zero tolerance for their kinda personality, been there and it takes quite some restraining to remain as decent despite how you don't click with someone!!

although i agreed with eventuality that being veiled spares me having to filter the superficial idiots who judge me based on it (referred to in my post as bigots of both parties), it still offends me when i am stereotyped for it, and it takes HUGE effort from me not to stereotype those who do by automatically judging them back... ok most of the time i rationalize judging them back :)) i have to let out some of my anger, don't ya think :))

it's always an honor when you like a post :D

kol sana wenta tayeb...

Umslopagas said...

Not sure if it's too late to comment on that one, I've been flowing your blog for some time now, but never commented, this one affects me personally though, so here's my sixpence worth.

I'm a guy who - I daresay - is very tolerant of other's views, as long as they don't try to change mine.

My religious views are very unconventional to say the least.

Until recently, I used to avoid getting too close to veiled women, but not out of despising or judging them, no, it was because of the absolute opposite.

They'd just judge and try to change me, first by asking questions, then by trying to guide me to what they believe is right.

There were the occasional thrills of an unbiased veiled girl, but in most cases this was cause she was forced to wear it, not because she wanted it, which - in my book - is absolute and utter hypocracy.

So, some, like in my case, just want to avoid the hassle of going into a conversation with someone who'd more than likely disapprove of you at first sight.

I remember even an old schoolmate of mine who went veiled, then severed relations with me, the explanation I heard later on from a common acquaintance was, whenever she speaks to you, she doubts her faith.

I apologise for the long comment, and have a good day.

insomniac said...

Umslopagas, ( i'm still trying to figure out how to pronounce that without sounding like a dork :) )

i totally get what you mean... yes, some veiled girls can be judgmental and preachy; God knows i know my share of those! but i doubt it has to do with their veil as much as it has to do with their personalities.... i mean there are other people who would judge you and they would not be veiled, of course the kind of judgment could be related to different aspects...

as for what you referred to as hypocrisy... i guess you can't always judge people based on your own beliefs... i mean, ok, indulge me here, i would agree that it could be hypocrisy if someone was forced to wear a veil and then tell you all about how it was her decision etc, but if she says she has been forced, then my guess is she's being rather honest about her beliefs, no????

and again, that's what i originally meant when i wrote that post... it's not about the veiled society or whatever it's called, it's about how people can be judgmental despite of their religion or religious beliefs...

Umslopagas said...

Good evening Insomniac,

I may have over-generalized, but let me give you an example of what I mean by hypocracy.

Primarily, I may have misphrased or chosen the wrong terminology, the "forced" I was referring to didn't necesarily mean being forced by her parents or husband, no it was more like forced by society to avoid the way our community - to a certain extent - views unveiled women.

I knew someone once who was veiled as long as she was in Cairo, once in Sharm or Hurghada, she could be seen at the beach dressed in a bikini, now, I'm not judgemental of swimwear, I couldn't care less, but come now, why is she veiled in the first place??

When this one starts preaching about how I should take care of my religious habits, I'd start asking questions.

I like to deal with people who practise what they preach, not follow their beliefs when it feels convenient, whatever their faith is.

Eventuality said...

Umslopagas, I think as Insomniac just pointed out, the veil does not and should not indicate anyone's behaviour. I mean being veiled is just an outer expression of so many things, many of them I dare to say aren't even religious.

I am veiled and I have been told so many times that my personality does not fit being veiled, because of my open-mindedness I'm afraid. That is something very disappointing to hear, because I only chose to be veiled because I prefer to be dressed this way as it is part of my beliefs, not to prove that I am religious or righteous or even to wear it as a sign of being Muslim.

As for preaching, I think no one should really preach (other than preachers :D), actions speak far louder than words. Again, veiled girls aren't the only ones who preach...there are many self-righteous people out there who think they have the right to tell everybody that they've gone astray.

Umslopagas said...

Lol, Eventuality, you may be right about the preaching part, I know I've had my share of trying to salvage the world in many ways, I'd be the last to deny it.

But my preaching has never been about beliefs, it was about fairness to oneself and to others, is this too much to ask of people.

Is telling someone not to step on people in a futile attempt to prove to herself that he can be as ruthless as the next guy considered preaching, or is it considered a last attempt to stop someone from turning into something they already hate.

Eventuality said...


1st, what does Umslopagas mean? :)

2nd I think we need to differentiate between preaching and giving advice to someone you care about; that is genuine advice that is not meant to just have them conform to what you think is right. I think advice is perfectly long as it is not overdone :)

Umslopagas said...

You asked the eternal question, what does Umslopagas mean, perhaps this should be the next blog post I have.

But, here goes.

Umslopagas was a fictional character invented by Sir H. R. Haggard, in his book called "Nada the Lilly", he was then re-introduced to the scene in the book "She and Allan" and finally mentioned in the book "Allan Quatermain" where he died.

Umslopagas was a Zulu tribal king, exiled by his brother, he met another famous wandered (Allan Quatermain) and embarked with him on a voyage to find a lost people.

They found a hidden city that was ruled by 2 sister queens, like all such stories, one of the queens was an idealist, the other was power hungry.

He fell in love with the idealist, who was about to be assassinated by her sister.

He afforded his loved one the chance of an escape, through getting her to climb up a stairway that led to the mountains.

To buy her time, he held that stair against her aggressors, for 2 hours he held that stair, till he fell and died.

I know it may sound childish, but when I first read that story, I was 14, I was very impressed by this selfless character, and he's become my role-model ever since.

Eventuality said...

Not childish at all...tales of chivalry have an effect on me too. Thanks for the info...adef ela ma3loomatek :)

insomniac said...


someone, when u explained the nick, i could actually pronounce it!!! weird... i agree with eve :)

so yeah, i got what you meant by hypocrisy... it's funny, i don't know how to explain it, but if i find someone whom i know is originally veiled in bikinis on a beach, i'd do my best to contain the laughter... no, not out of mockery, i find it funny... i'm weird that way :)

eve :)

thanks a lot for pointing out what i meant because i was kinda not so happy about how it turned into a hijab discussion!!! i think being veiled out of faith is too private to be discussed, all the more reasons it should not be used to discriminate against someone....

and preachers lose their audience faster than anyone, even when they are right and interesting!!!

advice :) i think the best advice is the one ur asked to give, it has better chances being listened to... i think most ppl only listen when they want to, not when they have to!

Umslopagas said...


About advice, what you say is true from a practically detatched point of view, but from a more personal point of view, I beg to differ.

Some people ask fr advice to find something to conviince them of what they already believe, then they ditch what you tell them down the nearest bin.

Should you then just watch, be silent or let them hear what they wanna hear?

You see, this sort of polite professional interest in people is not always practical to maintain after all.

insomniac said...

i know what you mean :)

are you kidding, i was married to someone who would ask me what i think a hundred times a day just to do the exact opposite, on purpose!! how do u think i learned to be that detached :))

other than that, i don't know when but i kinda noticed that it's best to let ppl come up with the advice that works for them; i usually play the shrink when someone asks me and i calmly say "what do u think u should do??" and let them go on and on and perhaps edit a bit.... u can try that, it's not as disappointing as giving advice that ends up being discarded ;))

i wonder how i would be able to control my advising urges when my sons grow up a bit!!

The.I.inside said...

Egyptians tend to get very judgmental, I have no idea why. saying religious tolerance exist in Egypt would be a lie so would claiming that it doesn't exists. I firmly believe that people usually HATE people from different religion (Muslims , Christian and Baha'ist ) generally speaking but when they start dealing with them their emotions are determined by the person in front of them.
Veil is a whole different issue, veil now is not about believing in it as much as it's about being socially accepted, I've met my share of veiled girls, who preach Non stop and also who I've known a girl who told me "You just can't be veiled at the beaches in Italy and Greece ".
I even have known one who preached all the time then got married and lived in European country and took of her veil. Talk about hypocrisy !

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