Thursday, May 31, 2012

Coptic Bishop Tells Christians To Dress Like Their Muslim Sisters

As if women in Egypt don't have enough to worry about with an Islamist led government (and possibly president) dictating how they dress, a Christian Coptic Bishop is now jumping into the modesty bandwagon, simply as a measure of appeasement and for his own political gain. At a recent event, Bishop Bishoy (who is vying for a papal position with the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church) suggested that Christian women should dress like their Muslim sisters, which- needless to say- has them outraged.

“I call on Christian girls to learn from veiled Muslim women their modesty. Some Christian women might be displeased with me, but the Virgin Mary, St. Demiana and the nuns wore modest clothes.”

Yes, but 21st century Christian Egyptian women are not the Virgin Mary, Saints or nuns, so why should they dress like them?

Mariz Tadros, writing for the Guardian UK, says that in recent years Muslim women in Egypt have become progressively more conservative, and a large majority wear the hijab (veil). This makes it even more difficult for the minority who don't, and harassment (though problematic in the past) has become even more unbearable.

In the streets of Egypt, many Coptic women have been told "Our Lady Mariam [referring to St Mary] used to wear a tarha [long scarf covering the hear], why can't you follow her example and cover up?".

While all eyes are focused on the presidential race, on the streets of Egypt, inch by inch, bit by bit, women's rights are shrinking. Women, Muslim and Christian, who do not cover their hair or who wear mid-sleeved clothing are met with insults, spitting and in some cases physical abuse. In the urban squatter settlement of Mouasset el Zakat, in Al Marg, Greater Cairo, women told me that they hated walking in the streets now. Thanks to the lax security situation, they have restricted their mobility to all but the most essential of errands. Whereas a couple of years ago they could just inform their husbands where they were going (visiting parents, friends or going to the hairdresser for example), now they have to get their husbands or older sons to accompany them if they go out after sunset.

And the Islamists have made it worse. A Coptic Christian woman said to me "we and our Muslim friends who do not cover our hair get yelled at by men passing by telling us 'just you wait, those who will cover you up and make you stay at home are coming, and then there will no more of this lewdness'". It was, she id, as if they were gloating over the fact that we were being pushed off the streets. Another woman told me that girls and women wearing mid-sleeved clothing had been slapped on their bare arms by men on bicycles shouting slurs. Another told me she had been spat on by men telling her to cover up. Another told me that she had her hair up in a pony tail and a young man pulled it so hard that she thought her head was going to fall off. Another recounts how she was pushed and elbowed by a passerby telling her to cover her nakedness (she was wearing a mid-sleeved blouse and trousers).

Tadros is convinced that Bishoy's statement has mostly to do with wanting to "win over" the Islamists "by showing he is willing to comply with their dress code for women", and winning that papal seat, of course.

Some 50 Coptic men and women demonstrated at the papal residence in Abbasiya demanding an apology, but Tadros says many were actually in disagreement with the protest.

This was the first time in the modern history of Egypt that Coptic Christian women had risen against a member of the clergy in protest. It is the first time they had collectively raised their voice to demand their rights as Coptic Christian women. The protests did not go well with all Christians: what's wrong with modesty many said, why attack the church now? Others said that while they completely sympathised with the cause of the protesters, this was not the time.

As one of the organisers of this protest, I tried to explain why we couldn't wait. I explained that if there is talk of women's modesty today, tomorrow there is more pressure on veiling, the day after it is going to be a socially imposed ban on trousers, after that a ban on women's freedom of mobility, until bit by bit, inch by inch we are driven back home.
Mohammed Mursi, the Islamist presidential wannabe, announced this week that if he is elected president he will not enforce an Islamic dress code on either Christian or Muslim women. But promises are cheap, and politicians will blatantly lie to achieve their goals. And with a majority Islamist parliament, even if Mursi did truly intend to not force women to wear the veil, he would soon cave to the demands of the majority.

I feel very sorry for the women of Egypt. At least those who relish freedom.

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