Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 20

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Raises Sharia Question

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic group dating to 1928, is stirring speculation about its influence on women in post-Mubarak Egypt. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch politician, among others, is wary.

Page 2 of 2

Conservatism of Women's Dress

One visible gauge of the group's social resonance is the increasing conservatism of women's dress.

One day in 2009 when I was living in Cairo and working for the American University in Cairo Press, I watched European tourists disembark their tour bus. They were next to a row of expensive floating restaurants on the island of Zamalek, which lies like a stepping-stone in the Nile between two banks and is popular among the khawagat --foreigners and expats.

The women wore short skirts, hot pants, tiny tops, boob tubes. The Egyptians who caught sight of these tourists stopped and stared.

Nowadays, the vast majority of Egyptian women wear the hijab--a headscarf covering their hair--and dress with a particularly Egyptian blend of modesty and flair. Many of the fashion-conscious women color coordinate everything, from headscarves, shirts and belts down to nail polish.

In another part of town called Madinat Nasr, in a crammed, clanking tram car, I once noticed a faded wall poster about the Brotherhood's favored dress code.

In 2005, Makarem el-Diri, the Brotherhood's only female candidate, lost her bid for this middle-class constituency, but fought a campaign based on the protection of the family and women's primary role as a good mother. The poster reflected this platform. It pictured a woman in modest, fitted denim and colorful hijab, crossed though in red.

The "correct" garb, indicated by a big green tick, was a loose-fitted black abaya --an enveloping black robe and headscarf­-that revealed only the hands and face. Most of the women in that tram car already wore the "correct" dress.

But it was not always so. Many of the older women who now wear conservative Islamic dress grew up in the 1960s wearing miniskirts and go-go boots.

The Brotherhood has provided the most persistent form of resistance to Mubarak's 30 years of emergency rule, which was in part accepted for the stability it brought. It's tempting to think that hemlines may have fallen along with favor for his increasingly autocratic rule.


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Merryn Johnson studied Arabic and worked in a publishing house in Cairo, Egypt. She is now a freelance journalist based in London, England.

-- Katherine Rausch contributed reporting to this story.

For more information:


"The Role of Muslim Women in an Islamic Society," Ikhwanweb:

"Get Ready for the Muslim Brotherhood," Ayaan Hirsi Ali's opinion piece in The New York Times:

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The muslim brotherhood obviously does not have to be officially in government to have severe effects on the nation of Egypt, as shown by the women's dress changes described here. That is only the most visible sign of their power. Women in Egypt have a huge fight ahead for themselves to maintain what rights they have and to improve the lives of women there.
Thanks to womensenews for this article, the only news outlet I know that has reported on the problems for women in the Egyptian crisis.


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