‘Veiled women only’ TV channel stirs controversy in Egypt


An Egyptian satellite television channel currently on test transmission and i managed by a staff of women in niqaab (fully veiled) has stirred controversy in the country and revived the debate over the limits of individual freedom.

Marya channel’s general manager Sheikha Safaa was quoted by various Egyptian media sources as saying that the television will be “exclusively female” and that men would not be allowed to interfere in its editorial policies or program content.

Sheikha Safaa noted that the channel’s owner, ultraconservative Salafi Sheikh Abu Islam Ahmad Abd Allah, will have a “consultative” role to play because of his “media and scholastic expertise.”

“The work in operations of the channel will be handled by the sisters in charge of management, especially as women are the best one to talk about their needs,” she said, adding that the channel “aims at lifting injustice” on veiled women who suffer from marginalization.

The channel’s owner was quoted as saying he chose the name Marya for his television in reference to Mariyah al-Qibtiyyah, a woman who was gifted to the Prophet Mohammed and gave birth to his son Ibrahim.

In an interview with Masrawy, veteran Egyptian TV host Tarek Habib denounced the idea of a TV channel only for veiled women, saying the niqab, has repeatedly been used in crimes.

He said it was essential to know the identity and the gender of who goes on air and speaks to millions of viewers.

Egyptian actress Athar Al Hakim, meanwhile, was also quoted by women’s magazine Majalatouki as criticizing the channel.

“I have the right to know who is talking to me on the television screen,” she said.

“The issue of niqab is a national security one and it is unacceptable in Egyptian society despite the religious diversity.”

On May 17 the channel’s owner clashed with Egyptian writer Nabil Sharf Eddine during a discussion on Dream TV.

Sharf Eddine described the Sheikh’s Marya TV as “a channel of the accursed Satan.”

The Sheikh hit back by describing him as “uncivilized.”