Veil Phobia in Cairo

Veil Phobia in Cairo


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 

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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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