Why Is Egypt Obsessed With Women’s Clothes?

Why Is Egypt Obsessed With Women’s Clothes?

Archive Image: Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Archive Image: Chris Hondros/Getty Images

In recent months, there have been a plethora of stories emerging from Egypt, in which women’s clothing and bodies have been policed.

Women have been arrested, barred and publicly condemned for either being too skimpily or too conservatively dressed – and contrary to popular assumptions, these attacks have largely not come from religious bodies, but rather from the so-called secular state and private businesses.

Women’s Bodies and the Secular Egyptian State

As recently as earlier this week, the Egyptian Syndicate of Musical Professions announced a ban on “revealing outfits” worn by singers on stage in the name of “recommitting to Egyptian values and tradition”, according to syndicate chief Ahmed Ramadan.

Under the new regulation, performers who are members of the syndicate – or who have a permit – will be banned from performing in Egypt if they are seen on stage in “inappropriate” clothing.

Typically, the legislation appears specifically to focus on women, with once again the burden of “Egyptian values” and national morality being unfairly borne exclusively by women’s bodies.

The decision by the Syndicate follows a series of incidents in which women have been arrested and convicted for immorality following clothing controversies. One of Egypt’s most well-known belly dancers, Safinaz, was sentenced to six months imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of EGP 15,000 by the Cairo Misdemeanour Court, for dancing in a dress designed like the Egyptian flag.

Safinaz in the controversial 'Egyptian flag dress'
Safinaz in the controversial ‘Egyptian flag dress’

In wearing the dress, Safinaz was accused of insulting Egypt, despite her protestation that “it was a message of love to Egypt and its people.” Far from an obscure figure, Safinaz is known for having performed at high status weddings, and appearing in several Egyptian movies.

Whatever Safinaz’s intentions were, the response of Egypt’s judicial system is a manifestation of a historical and patriarchal connection made between national honour and women’s bodies. Indeed, it is commonly misconceived that pressures on women to dress conservatively come solely from Egypt’s religious culture – the nation state, which in Egypt has traditionally been secular, often pushes a similar trope of restrained female sexuality as being reflective of a “dignified” nation. Note for example, that neither God nor religion is invoked in the accusations against Safinaz (or Salma El Fouly, discussed below).

In a similar vein, earlier this year, Egyptian performer Salma El-Fouly was arrested after dancing seductively and wearing revealing clothing in the “Seib Eidy” (Let Go Of My Hand) music video – a story which reached international headlines. Much like Safinaz, she was accused of “inciting debauchery and immorality” and “harming public morals.”

Screen capture from the 'seib eidy' video
Screen capture from the ‘seib eidy’ video

The song, which accompanies the video, narrates the story of a woman – El Fouly – being sexually harassed by a man – El Sedeki – whilst riding in the mixed carriage of Cairo’s metro. After being angrily told off by El Fouly’s character, El Sedeki insults her, calling her a “whore.” El Fouly is then shown to secretly love and enjoy the abusive attention that she is receiving (a sentiment that is decisively not shared by women in Egypt and worldwide who suffer sexual harassment in public spaces and on public transport.)

It is highly telling that, in a video rife with a misogynistic, dangerous message, that apologises for sexual assault and is therefore genuinely harmful to the public (women specifically), it is a woman’s low neckline that drew the state’s attention for “harming public morals.” The message here is that whilst there is a – what one can only consider obsessive – focus on women’s clothes, there is little concern regarding the safety and wellbeing of women’s bodies, be it in public or private spaces.

Anti-Hijab Prejudice

On the other side of the spectrum, there has also been increasing trend of what can be termed “veil phobia,” particularly in urban, upper class areas in Cairo. It is becoming increasingly commonplace to hear stories of women choosing to wear the veil being turned away from clubs and bars – most famously by The Lemon Tree & Co, located in the up-scale Zamalek district. Indeed, this establishment quite bluntly states its discriminatory policy, declaring, “no hijab is allowed after 6pm.”

It is not entirely clear what is behind such bizarre policies. A personal guess would be that it is to maintain a “modern”, cosmopolitan and “Westernised” image – something that is inextricably connected amongst Egypt’s urban elite with notions of class.

Another argument often made in defence of these private businesses, which place such undesired symbolic value on what a woman chooses to wear, is that if a woman is wearing the veil and is a Muslim, she should not be in a place that serves alcohol. Once again, this statement is patronising and patriarchal, as it denies the ability of Muslim women to make their own judgements on how to navigate their religious beliefs – a right that entirely belongs to them.

Women wearing the head-scarf are refused entry at most bars and night clubs in Egypt
Women wearing the head-scarf are refused entry at most bars and night clubs in Egypt

The government has responded in a more respectful way to this trend. The Minister of Tourism Khaled Abbas Rami personally promised to shut down any restaurants and ‘tourism facilities’ that are found to be banning women dressed in the headscarf from service.

Such policing of women’s clothing is of course not unique to Egypt. France’s famous, and racist, veil ban places a similar burden of “national identity and values” on (primarily Muslim) women’s bodies. Earlier this year, the hysteria surrounding this issue saw a French Muslim schoolgirl being sent home from school for her skirt being “too long.” In fact, throughout the world, it is seen as reasonable and commonplace to judge the inherent nature and “morality” of a woman’s character by the clothing she wears, in a way that is simply not extended to her male counterparts.

Whether a woman is being criticised for dressing too scantily, or too conservatively, and whether it is in the name of “public morality”, “national honour” or “secularism,” there is one consistent message being delivered: that it is not a woman’s place to make a decision as simple as what to put on her body. Indeed, it is clear that women’s bodies are not for them to own, but are treated as canvases on which patriarchal nations, states and even private businesses can define themselves. Such tropes deny women their agency despite often claiming to be protecting them – be it from “indecency” or from their own religion.

Egypt's Sexual Revolution: Not Just a Woman's Cause
Uncertainty in Egypt: From Terrorism to Youth Anarchism

Subscribe to our newsletter

  • Pingback: What is manuka honey()

  • Pingback: Las Vegas Preschool Cost()

  • Pingback: buceta amadora()

  • Pingback: Beer shirt()

  • Pingback: Immigration attorneys charlotte nc()

  • Pingback: man with a van()

  • Pingback: mental benefits of exercise()

  • Pingback: PayPal Credit Login()

  • Pingback: Inventing()

  • Pingback: Latest Hum Tv Dramas()

  • Pingback: tas laptop()

  • Pingback: Top 5()

  • Pingback: pencil sharpener()

  • Pingback: digital marketing consultants()

  • Pingback: type 2 diabetes blood sugar charts()

  • Pingback: Gary Costello()

  • Pingback: Cedar Park dental implants()

  • Pingback: HP OfficeJet Pro X551dw Ink Cartridges()

  • Pingback: fitness()

  • Pingback: xmct5895ct4jt3d4yxtjgwj45tc3j()

  • Pingback: cmv49wyn6vectn84wv5tect45fc5()

  • Pingback: xcn5bsn5bvtb7sdn5cnvbttecc()

  • Pingback: ccn2785xdnwdc5bwedsj4wsndb()

  • Pingback: Poll – 57 Percent of Egyptians Prefer Women to Wear Hijab | Rich Dubai()

  • Man on the street

    Bars is for hell destined infidels, so why a “good” Muslim girl with a hijab wants to be in a bar? End of the problem! Actually, it would be practical to say infidels only, no ugly hijab ladies are allowed. If I am a tourist or an infidel, who is going to a bar to pick up a babe? I am Certainly not interested in looking at unsexy hijab babe!

  • Pingback: Women Clothes - Blogsites.info()

  • Pingback: Womens Suits | Insurance, Maintenance, oil, tailor, save money, debt consultant, Engineering, Market, Travel, Tube, Amazing, Free Download()

  • Noha

    During a funeral I was not allowed to enter a Game3 by a Man who works there because I didn’t have a headscarf on, yet allowed another woman because she is christian. It’s simple people are ridiculous. And they are also self righteous in their ridiculousness.

    • Follow !success of many who are making profit monthly by doing an online job… Learn more on my~profile

  • Pingback: Clothes Women | insurance169()

  • Azza Raslan

    I’m sorry by why on earth would a covered girl want to go to a Bar or a nightclub in the first place !!! The article is taking the outliers of the problem and demonstrating them as a rule. So 2 publicity seeking belly dancers at one end and Veiled girls who are banned from bars and nightclubs ??

    And we are supposed to draw conclusions regarding the oppressive treatment of women from that.
    Not really very convincing – And also the article does not address the main issue – WHY? Why is Egypt obsessed with women’s clothes ?

    • I need to show this fantastic internet freelancing opportunity… three to five hours of work daily… Payments are weekly… Bonuses…Earnings of 6-9k /monthly… Just few hours of spare time, a computer, most elementary knowledge of) internet and reliable connection is what is needed…Get more information by visiting my page

  • Dr. Hashem

    There is genetic reason for this i can explain.
    The egyptian girl that cant attract good man must marry losers or wimps.

    • Man on the street

      Perhaps an ugly hijab babe thinks that she can compete for a handsome guys against a modern dressed outgoing ladies? Not in a million years guys are attracted to FAST girls, not the niquab girls..

  • Pingback: One Up Ladies Golf Clothing | Taylormade - Golf Club Review()

  • Mark

    Good article till you brought France into the subject…making opinionated judgements. France has long been a secular state and the invitation of Muslims to live in France has brought France much unanticipated burdan. After all, France is the state that banned the Catholic Church after their bloody revolution. It was napoleon whom opened the doors of the church in France once more. But the church after that has 0 power or influence on the extreme secular state. Stick to Egypt is my advice. France was fooled into thinking that their x colonial states citizens could be french.

  • Karin Assmann

    if it is not this sad, it would make me laugh. Half of humanity are women and still some men want women shut down and stop thinking and of course doing what is in their OWN mind. Are the women allowed to have a own mind? My God or Allah, help. You gave us a MIND to THINK and do all in a GOOD way. All my life I will fight for women rights. Ya Rab

  • liliana

    Normally skinny pants or t shirt its haram and guys make drama but they call belly dancer in evry wedding and look then its halal big big lol and hipocrite

    • Key

      And in the same light Mini skirts and skimpy wear is ok to wear on the streets of Europe but in their own corporations it is not permissible. Is that not hypocracy? These double standard basic western minded comments can be spotted miles away. Lol

      • Man on the street

        Dressing sexy in the office is not the tradition because you are not selling sex, you are selling your brain and qualification to work. The bar is where you get drunk, and pick up girls. Hence girls wear more sexy outfits for bars.


Dalia is an Egyptian writer and journalist. Currently, she is particularly interested in raising awareness about the historical and current labour and feminist movements in the Arab world.

More in Opinion

“Congratulations, You Are Now A Woman,” But Don’t Let Anyone Know

Nour EltiganiSeptember 17, 2018

Vegetarians Can Celebrate Eid Al Adha Too

Mirna AbdulaalAugust 21, 2018

No Country for Any Woman: On Living in a Male-Dominated Public Space

Deena SabryAugust 17, 2018

‘Teegy Neshrab Coffee?’ Egyptians Mock Sexual Harassment

Mohamed KhairatAugust 16, 2018

Beyond the Niqab: Liberal Muslims Stand Against Freedom of Religion

Ayman S. AshourAugust 14, 2018

What Does the Egyptian Government Debt Service Rising to EGP 406.2 bln Mean?

Mohamed MohsenAugust 2, 2018

What Are NGOs Doing in Egypt and What Can You Do to Help?

Mohamed MohsenJuly 31, 2018

Kicking in a Vacuum? Why Football Can’t Be Apolitical

Deena SabryJuly 19, 2018
Egyptian Streets is an independent, young, and grass roots news media organization aimed at providing readers with an alternate depiction of events that occur on Egyptian and Middle Eastern streets, and to establish an engaging social platform for readers to discover and discuss the various issues that impact the region.

© 2017 Egyptian Streets. All Rights Reserved.