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Veil Phobia in Cairo

February 7, 2015

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 

Comments (52)

  1. Ikhwanii Extincticus says:

    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?…..

    1. G says:

      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.

    2. Ikhwanii Extincticus says:

      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.

    3. G. says:

      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.

    4. Minymina says:

      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.

    5. G. says:

      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.

    6. Minymina says:

      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.

    7. Minymina says:

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

  2. Amira M says:

    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?

    1. M says:

      racist 🙁

    2. Ikhwanii Extincticus says:

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

    3. Khaled says:

      “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.

    4. Minymina says:

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

    5. Samir says: