Opinion

Veil Phobia in Cairo

Veil Phobia in Cairo

veiled

Now when you think you’ve seen it all in this circus of a city, something else comes up. Setting aside the full catalogue of the farcical state of the nation and the utter bleakness of our current direction, one incident shed an all too pressing light on one of the central traits that have reduced our collective psyche to this abysmal condition.

It’s the mesmerizing knack for shamelessness that has come to plague our waking hours. It’s everywhere, from hopeless streets to parody politics. Guess the Buddha had a point when he said that inner shame and fear of wrongdoing, together, form the essential foundation for society. What we lack in the former, we have more than over-compensated for in the latter, and in the wrong way.

The recent tragedy of atheist and gay hunts and the banning of two films for ‘historical and religious inaccuracies’ were simply a chilling reminder of how much dissonance, paranoia and willful ignorance there is.

I received a personal gift along the same vein the other day, and I’ll name names. A birthday dinner at the seriously kitsch and overrated The Tap in Maadi, a friend’s wife, veiled, walks in and I spot the bouncer uneasily trudging behind her to the table. He takes the husband to the side and what looked like a grave discussion ensues for a couple of minutes.

The husband then exchanges a few words with the wife. I couldn’t hold it in. “What was that all about?” “What do you think?” “I have no idea.” “El hegab, as usual. He told me it is not allowed but she can go into the bathroom and have it ‘sbanish’.”

Well, the first thing that popped into my head was what the hell ‘sbanish’ is and then the as usual bit. Gladly I didn’t verbalize this and instead resorted to the sadly instinctive xxx xxx (one of the most versatile, potent and outrageously sexist and revolting curse words in the history of man, in its basic, plain vanilla structure and one of the very few feats of genius in Egypt’s contemporary language and a clear sign of how urgent a thorough soul searching is).

The sight of the girl’s headscarf pushed back significantly was gloomy to say the least. I wonder how she felt about this horrendous injustice. I have been here for 30 years and can’t really tell if it has always been this way but it later came to my attention that this is pretty much the standard in high-end bars these days

Lemon Tree, apparently, spills out the dress code upfront. The extent of the audacity is remarkable, and once again we have outdone ourselves. Then one is faced with the insurmountable task of trying to see the logic and justification.

The most convincing argument I’ve managed to find so far (from a second hand source) is attributed to the gentleman manning La Bodega’s door: ‘Veiled women are not allowed because people feel uneasy about their drinking around them.’

Guess what he meant is that it awakens guilt. The psychological merit of this observation shouldn’t be discounted. Not a few still think they will be burnt in hell for it. Clearly, it’s the essential lack of bearing and cognitive dissonance in the heart of our identity; the stark polarity that continues to erode whatever is left of the dignity of our times.

So the fine establishments shield their patrons from the inconveniences of self-doubt. It is just another sad form of keeping the other out at the shallowest of levels. Now, this is the kind of thing that hits the news big time in the supposedly ungodly North, and for good reason. It is preposterous. Someone needs to take these folks for a downtown bar hop to drive home the true ethics of drinking and why some of us still hang on to a faint glimmer of hope.

It also goes to show how demented things are across the spectrum, how far we are from intellectual and emotional maturity in the miserable upper crusts of Egyptian society, the alpha and omega of our tragicomic demise. But I guess it is not surprising; not a minority thought that killing the Rabaa people is fine, if not great. The level of intolerance and bigotry is an atrocity by all means, another heap of shit to grapple with. This is ignorance at its finest and looking at the fractured sense of self and the gnawing anxiety, hypocrisy, and confusion behind it, one can’t help but wonder how far we’ll tolerate the very same regime that reduced this nation to such a wretched state and which side we are really on.

Looking back, it hurts that I didn’t just walk out from this place for the same reason why I’ll never set foot in Mecca, despite the undeniable spiritual magic and age-old mystical allure of the Stone I’m sure. The very least we can do is not to perpetuate this sort of crime. At this point, there is no time for imaginary boundaries.

Edited by Karim Hafazalla 

Western Media Hypocrisy And The Chapel Hill Shooting
Breaking Inter-generational Poverty in Egypt

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  • O

    Wow … the article seems very correct to me, but the comments, that’s a whole other article right there. You guys are looking at this from a very shallow viewpoint. People that are wearing hijab (not niqab for security reason which i totally agree with) can and may have fun in a nightclub or lounge. They do and can have fun without drinking alcohol. And they do and can enjoy a night out with their girlfriends and or boy friends without getting drunk. Not all of them are judgmental and on the lookout for “sinners” hahaha … anybody thinking like I would think is too egocentric. These are people, exactly the same as you and I… with a veil on their head. Some are more “radical” than others, but then again, those would probably not be in a nightclub or lounge, etc because they would feel out of place. It’s like going to a cocktail party wearing a long dress, or going to a conference in shorts and a t-shirt or going to a party where everyone is on blow … being a drinker only you would probably feel out of place if you didnt do blow. I mean, lets not take things out of context. There are a few issues here:
    – Security: people should not be allowed anywhere public without showing their face.
    – Freedom: public places SHOULD NOT be able to “choose” who to let it or who to let out. That is RACIST and that’s it. If you don’t want hijabs in your place, or blacks, or jews …. guess what, don’t open a public place. Stay home and host parties to those you want to invite. Simple as that. Dresscode is either formal, smart casual, or casual. Hijab can fall under any of the above in right combination; so it can’t be a category on its own, because it is RACIST. If you can’t see that, then you have a problem.
    – Inclusion: If we want to reduce the gap between “us” and “them”, the only way to do that is inclusion, not exclusion. Exclusion leads to ignorance, which leads to everything else. This is exactly how international media protrays muslims, women haters and beaters, terrorists, radicals, etc. This is not a result of inclusion. So the more we exclude, the bigger the gap, the more the ignorance and the harder the solution and coexistence.

    • hijabi

      thank you for your very objective comments ..u really nailed it.
      let me tell the real radicals something …yes not all hijabis are radical, and definetly not all of them r dumb and irritating…the really dumb and irritating ones here are the ignorant …and these are the really negative value of society…including the ignorant racist upthere.
      yes for security reasons the face of niqabis have to be seen, but whats your reason for hijabis? …u would find really well educated, sophisticated, stylish hijabis who know very well how to have fun and rock a party.
      And the most ironic thing ever is that a constant club member would be most welcomly accepted, and that same person the day she decides to wear hijab ..she would just get kicked out !!!!! …How different then are you from those radical terrorists ?!!! …ABSOLUTLY NOTHING!
      the problem here is with the paranoid irrational and definetly shallow and extremely arrogant psyches…sorry it is not our problem that you r sooo paranoid and ur ignorant mind can not mind its own business and have fun…deal with your paranoia..hijabis are not the problem… YOU ARE !

  • Farida El-Gueretly

    Omar, I’m sorry you have to deal with all the misinformed comments below. It is sickening how people have the audacity to place their judgements not only on the way people look but even on what their very intentions might be in deciding where they would like to spend their time. Places that are exclusive are definitely not places where I would like to spend my time – they’re just another expression of a classist mentality that is ironically perpetuated by those who claim Western ideals of liberty and freedom.

  • Whispers

    I’m veiled, I live abroad and in some social gatherings I go to clubs… in which I would perfectly enjoy my time if it weren’t for people staring at me with confused eyes filled with a mixture of feelings… not necessarily positive …. anger, disgust….etc…, and I’d be lucky if the night went by without having to hear people speaking their minds out loud, may be just think for a second that we don’t really care what you’re doing or drinking… if I’m at a club then obviously I’m okay with it… may be what you’re complaining about is actually what you’re doing….

  • 123xxy

    For God sake, let’s not forget the most important of all: SECURITY?? IDs are based on the face of the individual, this is a way to recognise people when needed (whether for a crime or others…) Why would one person be allowed to see us all and none of us could see that person? If the answer is because this person is religious then let’s apply religion and this person according to religion should not be there. If you can make an exception on the haram rule you should be able to make an exception for the security of others. And pls stop this bullshit “racist” term which is now used too often too wrongly to hide responsibility.

  • George Michael

    why would a veiled woman go to a night club in the first place, or a place that serve alcohol, it is haram to be there, so it is just to make a point, or it is start a this endless stupid debate???
    it is like they are asking for a fight or confrontation.
    shouldn’t she be at home raising her kids according to Islamic teachings and memorizing the Koran or hadith, what is she or her husband doing there in the first place. here is the holly text when it comes to alcohol ” the curses of Allah on those who dink it, those who serve it and those who sit on the same majlis (place)”
    sadak allahu alazeem

    • s

      Hi George.please when you write something check it has the correct reference .you wrote it as a quote from the quran and it is not..This is hadith.have a nice day

      • George Michael

        if it is hadith that makes it less important?

  • Sabrina Lilleby

    Well put! Hypocrisy runs along the entire gamut of social classes. Still, I somehow find it even more nauseating when so-called “liberal” and “freedom loving” (upper class) groups find pride in the discriminatory practices.

  • wastedminutes

    you mean “spells out” ? In either case , its very simple, an outlet is entitled to any dress code they choose; no shorts, no jeans, no niqab no anything they like… whomever doesn’t approve should vote with their wallet and go elsewhere. Why would anyone want access to a venue where they are not wanted and spend there hard earned cash there I don’t understand.

    • G.

      Yeah exactly, if someone want black people in their bar, they have every right to have “No Blacks” bar, they don’t want their money anyway. Why did we ever ban those bars anyway? and if someone doesn’t want to sell products to Jewish people either, that’s fine too, it’s their shop and they can choose who to serve and who not to serve..

      Exactly, if you’re not wanted, why go anyway? We should have told that the Jews in Nazi Germany, to the native americans and the african-americans in the US…

      Oh wait.
      We did.
      How did that turn out? Yeah.
      But did we learn? Seems not. I can see alot of you still believe self-freedom is still entitled to cross someone else’s freedom.

      Let’s think long and hard about the long-term consequences of our actions, let’s study history and avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again, let’s think.

  • I.F.

    True, since the restaurants are private it is up to them to decide who they want in there and who not. Yet this is an islamic country! The hijab belongs here more than the alcohol! What I don’t get mostly is, that when in my country (Switzerland) certain grocery/department stores decide that they don’t want women wearing the hijab working as cashiers (in the front line) the islamic community gets outraged and start demonstrating and blame us for not allowing them to execute their religion in peace. We are being pictured as racists. But living in Egypt for the past 5 years I’ve learned that hijab wearing women are being treated more than worse in their own country sometimes. Most of the hotels and companies wouldn’t allow the receptionists to wear the hijab. Dancing clubs wouldn’t allow them to enter and have a good time. As I worked in the party field myself and organized a few parties here in Cairo myself I can give you the reason why clubs/bars don’t want hijabs in their premises. Usually women are attracted to go to a club if either offered free entrance, a free drink or anything that makes them feel special (a rose for each woman etc etc.). Men on the other hand are attracted by the number of women in a club they can dance/flirt with and hopefully go “home” with. Women with hijab are usually not the once getting drunk, so in the 1st place they are “bad” consumers and no club/bar got rich by someone consuming Coke for the entire night. 2nd of all most men are not into hitting on hijab wearing women as it feels “wrong” and most probably she whouldn’t let them anyways. Meaning: the more hijab wearing women show up in a club the less men you will find there…. loss of business. It makes total sense to me yet I feel it is sooooo wrong! Whenever I organized a party here in Cairo I made sure with the club owner that everyone is allowed to enter. A certain dress code yes but this is going too far!!

    • Sobieh

      Hijab and niqab are new import from Gulf States and were force on us and became the cheapest way to hide missy and ugly hair and sometimes no hair at all ,I am 66 years old and I do not recall seeing those gearhead 30 years ago is it make my mom and my grand mom bad Muslims ?????

      • Ikhwanii Extincticus

        I’ve been shocked many times when a hijabi has taken her scarf off because what I expected to see was not what I saw. It’s true many at least what I have seen, use it to hide greasy dirty hair that needs a good shampooing and conditioning.

    • Sami

      Alcohol has been in Egypt for way longer so the Hijab, you dumb shit.

  • randa

    The comments below are as demented as our society. Thanks for the article. “The ultras” do you mean hijabis or neqabis? Or anybody with anything longer than a knee length skirt? Dress codes are bull sh*t you all try to be the cream of society. Oh look at ys we are so liberal… well, learn how you are the shallowest form of liberal and do not describe or embody liberty with your bigotted words and exclusive/alienating/elitist actions. A certain dress doesn’t make you open-minded… sorry to break the news.

  • Ikhwanii Extincticus

    I think it’s a good thing that clubs and restaurants are defining their own dress codes. There can be nothing more disturbing than to be sitting trying to enjoy a meal with friends and to have two eyes peering at your group from under a black polyester tarpaulin sitting in the corner shoving fork fulls of french fries under a flap at the front. Likewise to know what clubs and restaurants to avoid where the hijabis are tut tutting at peoples dress, language and what they are drinking is also a plus. If the Ultras want to go out clubbing they should ask the MB to set up some exclusive clubs where they can sit in segregated seclusion away from the rest of us. I say well done The Tap and Lemon Tree and Bodega. The Ultras should not be in clubs or bars anyway should they?…..

    • G

      I agree, it is quite disturbing when you are trying to enjoy an outing and instead end up constantly getting judgmental looks, but exclusion is not the way to deal with this problem, in fact, increasing the gap between us will only increase the problem. If you want to stop the tutting and judgement on both sides, then you must expose them to each other, educate them about one another so that they understand your culture and you can see more than just a “Black polyester tarpaulin” in their culture. If we do this properly, then it will become a norm, and we can overcome this problem, instead of ignore it and segregate.

      • Ikhwanii Extincticus

        How can you expose them to our culture exactly? They have chosen to hide in disguise. They themselves have decided to alienate themselves from the rest of society. Can you imagine for a moment a room full of Niqabis and a lost child trying to find it’s mother? It’s completely insane. No sorry they can hide behind their tarpaulin sheeting and we can go on ignoring them. If they want to go nightclubbing they can take the stupid disguise apparatus off.

        • G.

          They obviously aren’t choosing to hide if they are trying to get into clubs and restaurants that we have banned them from, it’s simple, you leave the two sides no choice but to interact and thus they are exposed to each other. You’re argument that they have chose to alienate themselves holds no substance as you provide no evidence (this article itself shows that we are the ones alienating ourselves with isolated restaurants and clubs), it seems that we are forcing to avoid us with that attitude and vice versa. I beseech you to look at this from the other side.

          Your comment about the child trying to find a Niqabi mother brings up a whole other argument, one about security and safety, and perhaps one I would agree with you on.

          This is not a matter of wanting to go “nightclubbing” but a matter of principle, if we allow this to happen then we are going backwards in society, just like how we used to have “no blacks allowed” bars and “No jews” businesses.. We need to learn from history and stop ignoring and segregating what is unfamiliar, or what we cannot understand. It will only escalate until it results in persecution if no one does anything.

          Let us learn from history and stop making the same mistakes over and over but with different groups.

          • Minymina

            If these lunatics had their way they wouldn’t even be night clubs in the first place. They are the definition of hypochypocrites. Nightclub owners have the right to allow whoever they see fit.

          • G.

            So do you feel it is okay that American bar owners used to ban black people from entering? It’s their ‘right’ afterall. Is it okay that Germany banned Jews from entering shops at some point? The owner’s didn’t want to serve them, isn’t that their choice?

            “La liberté de soi s’arrête là où commence celle des autres”- “Self freedom ends where someone else’s begins”

            Even if all the “lunatic” muslim people would choose not to have night clubs if things went their way, do you really think the answer is segregation? As I argued in my previous comment, the way to overcome this culture clash that exists is through education, interaction and understanding. We’ve tried this way before, history shows we’ve tried to segregate, we’ve tried oppression and war and labor camps and has any of it worked? No.

            So again let’s learn from history and think long-term.

          • Minymina

            This isn’t about race or religion, this is about a dress code. In Europe and the US, people are denied entry for their shoes and choice of clothing. Its how bars, restaurants and nightclubs operate.

            Regardless whether or not thats the case, business owners have the right to deny entry to whom they choose, whether or not its racist. It is their property and just like you have the right to deny entry of your home to some they too have that right.

            Neither the niqab nor the hijab have anything to do with Islam. They’re apart of wabiheism ideology. You claim that education is the solution but you fail to see that these people can’t be reasoned with. If not their way then no way.

            Either they remove the veil on entry or go somewhere else. I’m sick as f*** of this religion / politically correct nonsense. Keep religion to yourself and stop forcing it on others.

        • Minymina

          Are they even allowed to enter a bank?
          They’re kind of a security concern

  • Amira M

    Thank you for the restaurants’ names. I am sure I will like the places as I fully agree with the owners. If you do not like it, ignore it -there is a lot of restaurants in Cairo. As both of above mentioned are PRIVATE it is up to them to set the rules. Deal it. We have a state of religion, you go to jail for being an atheist, You need more?

    • M

      racist 🙁

      • Ikhwanii Extincticus

        What the hell provoked of all words, the word ‘racist’ ?

        • Khaled

          “two eyes peering at your group from under a black polyester tarpaulin sitting in the corner shoving fork fulls of french fries under a flap at the front. ”

          that is a stereotype that all Niqabi women are social cast outs, nosy people with ill-behavior.
          Life is much bigger than that, religion and culture is much deeper than your prepackaged convictions.

      • Minymina

        How so? Neither the niqab nor the hajab have anything to do with Islam.

    • Samir

      Yassssss

Opinion

Omar Refaat is an Egypt based writer, citizen and traveller of the world. His short stories and essays have been featured in homegrown publications including Rowayat, the English language literary journal. His work samples can be found at: http://omar-refaat.blogspot.com.

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