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Coptic bishop advises women in Egypt to dress modestly like ‘Muslims and St. Mary’

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A Coptic Bishop in Egypt infuriated many Christian women in the country after saying on May 18 that they should dress more modestly, “like their Muslim sisters” and follow their example, the Guardian reported earlier this week.

“Our Lady Mariam [referring to St. Mary] used to wear a tarha [long scarf covering the hair], why can’t you follow her example and cover up?” the bishop, who is one of the nominees for the papal seat of the Coptic Orthodox Church, recently said.

The comments were seemingly made in light of the fact that a vast majority of Muslim women in Egypt are now veiled, while Coptic women have recently said they are increasingly being insulted in society for not covering their hair, as per typical Muslim practice.

“Women, Muslim and Christian, who do not cover their hair or wear mid-sleeved clothing are met with insults, spitting and in some cases physical abuse,” the newspaper reported.

One Coptic woman told the British newspaper that she, along with Muslim women who do not cover their hair, get yelled at by men passing by, telling her “just you wait, those who will cover you up and make you stay at home are coming and then there will [be] no more of this lewdness.”

Recent political events in Egypt after the uprising which ousted the former autocratic government last year, have witnessed a rise in Islamist political presence.

After a vote at the end of 2011, Islamist politicians won majority seats in parliament, while a Muslim Brotherhood candidate made it to the presidential election run-off next month.

The former government, led by ousted president Hosni Mubarak, has been strongly accused of suppressing the Brotherhood and disallowing their inclusion in the country’s political affairs.

Coptic Christians in Egypt, which account for about 10 percent of a population nearing 85 million, have shown signs of being concerned at the prospect of Islamist rule in Egypt.

Christian women expressed their anger at Bishoy’s comments, staging a protest in the Coptic Patriarchate in Abbassiya on May 18 in which 50 men and women attended. The protesters believed the bishop’s statement was “political instrumentalization of Coptic women,” the paper reported.

Bishoy was accused by Coptic women of trying to woo Islamists “by showing he is willing to comply with their dress code for women,” in what would expected to be imposed upon women, under Sharia (Islamic law), in the event of a Brotherhood presidency win.

But the Islamist group’s candidate, Mohammed Mursi, dispelled such fears this week. Appealing to non-veiled Muslim and Christian women alike, Mursi said he would not impose a Muslim dress code if he assumes office.

(Written by Eman El-Shenawi)