Veiling the mind
The public is being told it has more pressing issues to attend to than the veil, observes Jailan Halawi
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni's veil ordeal continued to make headlines. And, while the news of the minister resuming his tasks after a short period of seclusion occupied the front pages of several newspapers, special features and columns were dedicated to the pleas by intellectuals and political analysts to the nation to acknowledge its higher challenges and embark on means of solving them.
Abbas El-Tarabili, in the Monday edition of Al-Wafd newspaper, mouthpiece of the opposition Wafd Party, wrote in criticism of the war of words that followed Hosni's statements, in which he called the veil a sign of regression, urging the people to better spend their time in solving the many issues that are more dangerous to the nation than that of the veil. "The entire population rose for an uncalled for battle... forgetting that Egypt is loaded with problems that [if not treated] could destroy the nation." El-Tarabili said ethics were not limited to veiled women, citing examples from the past, adding that, "the veil is not just a costume but an attitude and a code of conduct."
Voicing the same opinion was Abdel-Moneim Said, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in the Tuesday edition of the daily pro-government Al-Ahram. Said criticised the People's Assembly's "over-reaction" to the minister's statement about the veil. "When the assembly rose in denunciation of statements attributed to Farouk Hosni, neither was he trying to pass new legislation or law banning veiled or non- veiled women from working in state institutions or walking down the streets, nor was he suggesting a statement, plan or policy encouraging or discouraging wearing the veil. What the minister said was an expression of his opinion on the veil, where the [MPs] could have responded to by issuing similar statements [expressing their objections] or leaving it for the media to respond instead of dedicating a full session [for MPs of the NDP and those of the Muslim Brotherhood banned by the law but factually legitimate] in condemning the minister and his statements where each party pretends to be more devout to Islam and its rulings than the next."
It appears that whatever Hosni says these days becomes automatically controversial. Going back to work last week after remaining sequestered in his home, Hosni announced the formation of a committee of Muslim and Christian clergy to supervise publications issued by the Ministry of Culture, a step welcomed by some and denounced by others, especially intellectuals who warned that such a move could be the planting of a seed for the formation of a theocratic state.
Others deemed such a committee as an attempt by the minister to settle the crisis. "The minister is seeking a reconciliation with the People's Assembly and hence is providing them with the committee as a gift," novelist Osama Anwar Okasha was quoted as saying in the daily independent Al-Masri Al-Yom.
Other news concerned the suggestions posted in the press about the constitutional amendments in light of President Hosni Mubarak's promise that 2007 would be "a year of constitutional reforms". More or less, most press reports urged that such amendments should be made so that various political parties can have a greater chance of running in presidential elections as well as limiting the president's prerogatives. Hence, it was argued that many articles regulating the relationship between the government and the president should be amended.
In the daily independent Nahdit Masr, political analyst and co-founder of the Democratic Front Party Osama Ghazali Harb wrote, "such amendments are Egypt's hope in changing the political atmosphere as well as the base for any future amendments."
Professor of political science at Cairo University Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed was quoted by the daily opposition Al-Ahrar as saying, "any constitutional reform should be aimed at decreasing the president's prerogatives and providing more of them to other authorities in order to avoid monopoly of power..."
Other news in brief included that of the Boulaq Misdemeanour Court rejecting a lawsuit filed by Ibrahim Nafie, former chief editor of Al-Ahram, charging MP Mustafa Bakri with libel and slander. Bakri is also editor-in-chief of the opposition weekly Al-Osbou. In explaining its ruling, the court said that under the law, Nafie should have obtained permission from the People's Assembly or its speaker before filing such a complaint against an MP.
On a lighter note, the daily Al-Ahram celebrated 130 years of its establishment on Sunday, issuing a 24-page supplement marking the occasion. In an interview with Al-Ahram 's Editor-in-Chief Osama Saraya during his visit to the newspaper, President Hosni Mubarak described Al-Ahram as "a school of journalism that has played an effective role in the lives of Egyptians."