Hijab-wearing women say they are being 'turned away' at Egyptian resorts

Many Egyptian women say they are facing a difficult summer season as Hijab-free zones seem to have soared in popularity

Shounaz Meky - Al Arabiya News
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Many Egyptian women say they are facing a difficult summer season as Hijab-free zones seem to have soared in popularity, as more restaurants and high-end resorts enforce a de-facto ban on wearing headscarves.

Social media users in Egypt flocked to Facebook and Twitter over the past week to condemn the apparent decision by some venues to deny veiled women entry.

Many deemed the ban as “discriminatory” against practicing Muslim women in Egypt - a country in which 90 percent of its 80-million population are Muslim.

The ban is not completely new, it was reportedly common at resorts and restaurants frequented by foreigners, in cities such as Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada.

Recent reports suggest that several swimming pools and restaurants at five-star resorts lining the Egyptian north coast are also restricting the entry of veiled women to their services.

Several veiled women who were rejected at the door spoke to Al Arabiya News and described the act as a ‘violation of freedom.’
Reem, a 28-year-old woman who wears the Hijab, said she was turned away at the doors of two different beaches at upscale north coast resorts for being veiled, she told Al Arabiya News.

“I was with my husband when I was told I cannot come in because I’m veiled.

“The outing was quickly cut short when the security at the door told me guests complain about the appearance of veiled women,” she added. Reem said such door-selection policies are never written.

Sally Nashaat, a 26-year-old mother of two girls, said she was also not allowed to enter a beach club house at a five-star north coast resort for being veiled.

Among a group of friends, she was told: “Everyone can enter, except her.

“It feels degrading, we are in our own country and we are not happy.

“I was about to cry,” Nashaat said, “no one has the right to deprive me of entering. This never happened to me anywhere else, even in the United States.

“Some friends told me to take it off on the day, but I refused. Do I have to take it off to enjoy entry to such places?”

Nashaat said in some beaches that permitted access to veiled women, she was allowed to sit on the beach wearing the “Islamic” swim suit but not into the swimming pool.

An “Islamic” swim suit is commonly known as a full-length lycra outfit that covers the whole body except for the hands, face and feet.

“I was told I cannot enjoy swimming while being covered,” Nashaat said.

Furthermore, Reem said it was ironic that these restrictions were imposed on veiled women when Egypt was an Arab state with a majority of Muslims.

“I don’t want to be stopped for being veiled. I don’t want any of us to feel ashamed. We are not doing anything wrong,” she added.

Dina Sherbini, who owns a chalet at an upscale resort in Ain Sukhna, about 200 kilometres east of Cairo, told Al Arabiya News she was threatened by staff members if she swam wearing an Islamic swim suit.

They threatened “they would throw excess chlorine in the water” and that they would “shut off fountains and Jacuzzi in the pool,” Sherbini said.

When she bought the chalet three years ago, Sherbini said, nothing in her contract mentioned that swimming while covered was unacceptable in the resort.

“It was allowed before but now they changed their mind. What can we do now? Neither myself or my daughters are now allowed to swim.”

Sherbini also recalled a recent incident where the same administration refused to sell a friend of hers a unit at the resort for being veiled.

When asked if a ban imposed by venues on Hijab-wearing women was lawful, Egypt’s tourism ministry spokeswoman Rasha Azaizi told an Egyptian talk show Sunday that the ministry had not “issued any instructions or decisions in that regard.”

She reportedly demanded citizens to file complaints to the ministry against hotels or resorts that impose such bans.

However, forbidding veiled women from enjoying some beaches or restaurants is not seen as a problem by everyone.

Those who argue against the policy say it violates the Egyptian constitution, which prohibits actions that discriminate between people or against a sect due to gender, religion or belief.

Others believe privately owned establishments are free to have their own rules.

Mervat Tallawy, the head of Egypt’s state council for women, said Egyptian law did not regulate on such issues.

Tallawy added she does not view such acts as discrimination, adding that each establishment has the right to impose its own dress code.

“An establishment that prevents hijab-wearing women is just like any other that would ban a man for not wearing a suit,” she told Al Arabiya News.

“There are resorts that provide women-only beaches. We cannot tell them why you are not allowing men to come in.”

Tallawy said some establishments are trying to “maintain their interests” and “keep up with a certain image” which “must be taken in consideration.”

“We do not want to blow the issue and hype it, let’s discuss the new planet discovered by NASA.”

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