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EGYPT: Court upholds ban on the all-covering niqab at three universities during exams

January 4, 2010 |  8:29 am


Female students at three Egyptian universities won't be allowed to take end-of-semester exams wearing niqab, or face veils, Cairo's administrative court ruled on Sunday.

The order barring students from wearing niqab at the universities of Cairo, Ain Shams and Helwan was originally issued last October by the minister of higher education, Hani Helal, in accordance with chairmen of the three establishments.

The decision stirred controversy among many clerics and intellectuals, who believed that the prohibition violated the personal and religious rights of female students. 

A three-day protest was held denouncing the ban at a number of universities in December.

Sunday's judgment came after an Islamist lawyer filed a petition against the ban on behalf of 55 students.

"I filed a lawsuit to stop this decision last month, saying that female guards at the university can check the identity and face of the munaqaba [niqab-wearing] student," said lawyer Nizar Ghorab in his case.

In its ruling, the court said niqab can be used as a way of cheating during exams and that universities don’t have enough female security personnel to check students' identities. 

The court said the nature of the attire allowed students to enter exams hiding sound-recording devices, a method of cheating.

Ghorab rejected the ruling, arguing that cheating would take place regardless of wardrobe.

The issue of banning niqab at universities began to stir controversy in October when Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi officially barred students from wearing it within Al Azhar University's premises and dormitories.

Al Azhar, the world's biggest learning institution for Sunni Muslims, has separate classes and accommodations for female students. Tantawi, well known as an opponent of niqab, has argued that covering women's faces has no basis in Islam anyway.

Few women in the Egyptian community wore niqab until the late 1970s, when millions who left for work in the Persian Gulf kingdoms were influenced by the strict Salafist Islamic beliefs prevalent in Saudi Arabia and other conservative Arabian Peninsula nations.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Female students wearing niqab. Credit: Associated Press