Egyptian Network Staffed & Operated by Fully Veiled Women: Empowering or Oppressive?

August 1, 2012  |  

I was surfing the internet, looking for something to write about, when I came across a piece on one of my favorite websites, The Frisky.  It was just a blurb linking to CNN, but the headline,”TV Station Staffed By Fully Veiled Women Launches In Egypt,” intrigued me. The video and accompanying text piece on CNN detailed a new Egyptian television station called Maria. The station allows fully veiled women to operate and broadcast their own programming.

Initially, it seemed like a great idea. Women like Heba Seraq-Eddin who had studied mass communication in college, couldn’t get a job in television because networks, even in Egypt, weren’t hiring women who wear niqabs, the covering that shields everything except the woman’s eyes. These women had been discriminated against in class, where they couldn’t wear their niqabs during tests, or in their dorms and now in the job market. Seraq-Eddin felt that in Maria, she found a place where she and her beliefs were accepted: “I felt that we finally have a place in society after being marginalized. As women wearing niqab, we had no rights, and no one to talk about us. Through Maria, we’ll find people like us talking about us, with no discrimination.”

As a minority woman who majored in journalism, my heart went out to them. I thought, Go ‘head girls! It seemed like an empowering endeavor. But as I continued watching the video, I bristled several times at some of the thoughts expressed. Abu Islam Abdallah, the creator of Maria‘s mother channel, Al-Omma, is vehemently anti Christian (bristle) and believes it, Christianity, is the cause of society’s ills. Ills like women dressing immodestly, working as dancers and serving as members of parliament. (Bristle) Abdallah said that this network is about rejecting the type of discrimination these veiled women have had to face and putting them on the “right path.” (Bristle!)

Honestly, my first thought was either this man is crazy, a hypocrite or a liar. How can you claim to promote female empowerment and independence but believe women serving in Parliament is “madness.” Is that not another form of discrimination against women? The CNN article interviewed an Egyptian academic who believes Abdallah and his new network could just very well be a gimmick, a cover up to promote his conservative agenda. And I had formed my judgment about the whole thing, I was ready to slam the gavel, dismiss the network as oppressive and move on to the next thing.

But before I could click away, I had to ask myself, Why are you mad?

Clearly, as a Christian woman, who is also some version of a feminist/womanist/whatever, there were plenty of opportunities for me to be offended. And though Abdallah’s comments didn’t help me come to terms with Maria’s message, I had to ask myself what if the tables were turned? What would an atheist, post-racial, misogynist think about me writing and working for a black women’s website? We could argue all day about whether or not I should be able to do such a thing and what my job represented; but hopefully the atheist, post-racial, misogynist and I would come to the conclusion that we’ll never see eye to eye and should both just respect that my work empowers me, even if it goes against everything Mr. Atheist, Post Racialist, Misogynist believes in.

Now, I can’t speak for these women. I don’t know how fulfilling being a part of such a network, is for them. But I’ll just concede that they’re doing something they believe in. And though, I can’t support their message, I’m not mad at them.

What do you think, is Maria helping or hurting these Egyptian women? Watch the video and let us know what you think?


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