Few hours after Fatma Nabil has read the 12 o’clock news bulletin in her full cream-colored veil, the Egyptian media sphere has quivered with endless controversial discussions on the extent to which the entire country is deliberately being ‘Ikhwanised’. Being the first Egyptian female newsreader ever to appear on Egypt’s state television, the move assuredly recalls the times when hundreds of women lingered behind in their professional path due to a piece of cloth covering their head. Under the ousted secular-leaning Mubarak regime, many female TV staff would be required to take off their scarves if they prefer their jobs to remain in front of the cameras. Just because a female chooses to appear in a certain way, a rapid impression materializes and associates her with probably being an ultra-conservative, if not a purely Islamist.
More than forty years ago, the headscarf issue was not as problematic. One would agree that in many cases, headscarves, veils, burqas, hijabs or whatever one would like to call it has turned particular classes of women into prisoners of their own homes. A notion has spread that a veil confines a female to a private sphere, blocking her to public participation in a terminology of ‘modernism’. But excessively in Mubarak’s era, a veil was for many girls no victory for women’s rights.
This is not to say that the move should turn everyone euphoric on the increasing signals of a growing tide of Political Islam. Media textbooks have explicitly elaborated that probably the only primary criteria of assessing any media professional would be in his/her adherence to the basic rules of the trade. A veiled TV anchor, who contributes in setting a negative agenda in the society, would fail to achieve the least professional standards in her job, despite how religious she would like to appear to her audience.
Similarly, the unveiled female TV anchor, who covered the Maspero incidents created sectarian strife when she publicly announced that a Coptic citizen triggered the clashes. The entire move also reminds one of the recent debate about allowing bearded police officers to practice their jobs and the talk on the extent of personal freedom they are allowed to enjoy. The examples magnify an influx of ideas that relate to stereotypes, media professionalism, freedoms, and equal opportunity.
There should be a representation on state TV of the majority of Egyptian women who commonly wear the headscarf on a normal Egyptian street. Nevertheless, it is also important is to keep away from deep waters while thinking about whether or not Nabil’s going on air has achieved the goals of the 25 January revolution.
The move hasn’t really added to the spirit of the revolution with regards to all the positives it upholds. It just reminds me that the end result would be having faces on state TV mirroring the wives of Muslim Brotherhood senior figureheads and the country’s new First Lady, Naglaa Mahmoud, who covers the entire upper half of her body rather than just her hair. It is typically opposite to those anchors who used to look like the wives of the ruling elite, and the style of women like the ousted well-coiffed first Lady Suzy Mubarak. One with a veil, one without. It’s the way the messages are delivered that eventually matters.