CAIRO: Be modest.
Those are the words of potential Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail to his supporters, and especially to the country’s female population. His firebrand rhetoric, which endorses “Islamic dress” has begun to spark fears among Egyptian women that he wants a Saudi Arabian styled future for Egypt, where women are forced to cover and are barred from beaches.
At least two-piece swimsuits, Abu Ismail said at a recent interview on a TV program called “90 minutes.” He also said that if elected, he would bar alcohol from public places, even for tourists, would end the peace treaty with Israel, and more frightening to the over 40 million women living in the country, he would “embark on a conservative dress campaign,” which would “force the Islamic dress on all women.”
He added that if women were seen wearing two-piece bikinis on the beach or in public, “they would be arrested.”
For many in the country, it is a scary proposition that would see many of the real, and perceived, freedoms that have come slowly as a result of the January uprising that ousted the former government here, dissipate in favor of conservatism.
Nawal el-Saadawi, the foremost Arab feminist, told Bikyamasr.com in a recent interview that the revolution was largely “because women took to the streets. But we cannot have a better Egypt without women, they are the foundation of any society.”
With the rise of the conservative Salafists in late July – they held a million man march on Cairo’s Tahrir Square – and their increasing popularity, women are now being pushed aside, says Nadia Fahmy, an Egyptian-American researcher based in Cairo and works in rural villages, attempting to gather an understanding of rural culture in the country.
“Look around and all the positives and optimism that were part of the post-revolution Egypt are all but gone,” she begins. “We have returned to how things were before Mubarak, but now it is the Salafists who are gaining the peoples’ strength, especially in rural areas where religion is so important.”
Around 12 percent of Egypt’s population are Coptic Christian and do not veil. A small percentage of Muslim women in the country also do not adorn the veil, and Abu Ismail’s comments have left many frustrated over the rising power of the Islamists in the country.
“I talk to my friends, who are not veiled and drink and go to the beach, and these kind of statements really worry us, partly because we know that people like Abu Ismail are popular among the lower classes,” added Fahmy.