CAIRO (Reuters) - A Cairo court ruled on Sunday in favour of the Egyptian government’s decision to ban female students wearing the niqab, or full face veil, in university examinations.
The case, and that of a religious edict banning the niqab in girls’ schools dormitories, has bounced back and forth among various courts after the minister of higher education imposed the ban in October and it was then appealed by 55 students.
The government has long been wary of Islamist thinking, and in the 1990s crushed Islamists seeking to set up a religious state. It also is keen to quell opposition ahead of a parliamentary election expected by December, to be followed by a presidential vote.
The government said it brought in the ban in part because students, male and female, were sitting exams disguised as other candidates by wearing a face veil.
However, Sunday’s administrative court ruling will not necessarily be an end to the case because such cases can be appealed and refiled many times in Egypt.
The right to wear the niqab in universities has long been an issue for Egypt’s courts.
In 2007, a court ruled that the American University in Cairo, seen as a bastion of Western liberal education in Egypt, was wrong to bar a female scholar who wears the niqab from using its facilities. The court cited personal and religious freedom as grounds for its ruling.
Just 30 years ago, women attended Egypt’s flagship Cairo University wearing miniskirts and sleeveless tops. They strolled along the beaches of Alexandria in skimpy swimsuits at a time when society was apparently more liberal and tolerant.
Today, majority Sunni Muslim and minority Christian Egypt has seen the growing influence of strict Saudi-based Wahhabi ideology on an already conservative and Islamised society. This has resulted in a huge increase in the number of women wearing veils, or headscarfs, and the full face veil.
A majority of Islamic scholars say they believe wearing a headscarf is a must, while few consider the niqab obligatory. Egypt, unlike other Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, does not require women to cover their heads with a scarf.