A woman has made history in Egypt by becoming the country’s first female news presenter ever to appear on state television while wearing a veil.
Fatma Nabil wore a cream-colored headscarf to read the 12 o’clock news bulletin on Sunday, and she won’t be the last to do so: Several other female news presenters are scheduled to go on air in the coming days, and many are expected to cover their hair.
Such an act would not have been possible a little over a year ago; since the late-1960s, Egyptian state television has enforced a ban on the Muslim head covering. The policy was only lifted after the secular-leaning President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in 2011.
Under Mubarak and his predecessors, female TV employees who covered their hair would only be able to take up roles away from the cameras. Many launched lawsuits against the policy, and some even won, but the rulings were ignored by Egypt’s Ministry of Information, itself a hive of Mubarak loyalists.
Since Mubarak’s overthrow last year, the election of Islamist Mohammed Morsi as president has given the ruling elite in the country a new image. Morsi sports an Islamic beard, while his wife, the country’s new First Lady Naglaa Mahmoud, covers her hair and the entire upper half of her body, leaving only her face exposed.
Head coverings of some description are worn by a large majority of Muslim Egyptian women, yet while privately-owned TV networks in the country have long employed veiled presenters, the Mubarak regime sought to promote an image of ‘modernity’ by banning the veil for news presenters. Other roles covered by the veil ban included hotel and airline work.
Speaking about her appearance on state TV news, Nabil said:
“Now the standards have nothing to do with the veil, which is a personal choice, but are all about professional skills and intellect.”