Al-Ahram Weekly Online   28 January - 3 February 2010
Issue No. 983
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Testing the veil

ALTHOUGH the Supreme Administrative Court has lifted the ban on the niqab students are still banned from examination rooms after arriving in face veils, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky

The battle between the Ministry of Higher Education and university students over the niqab has entered a new phase following last week's Supreme Administrative Court ruling that university administrations could not ban female students from wearing the niqab during exams.

In a six-page judgement the court said that "banning the niqab, the full face veil, has no legal bases and contradicts the personal freedoms guaranteed by the constitution."

Minister of Higher Education Hani Hilal said in a press conference that his ministry respects the court decision and will implement it.

"Universities will allow the students who got a ruling in their favour to wear the niqab during exams. Students who did not get a ruling will be obliged to obey the university's examinations procedures. We want the students to reveal their faces during exams to make sure they do not cheat," Hilal said.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed earlier this month by 50 students. They had argued that allowing female guards to check their identities before entering the examination room was sufficient and that they should then be allowed to sit the examinations veiled.

Although the Supreme Administrative Court ruling cannot be appealed the Faculty of Dar Al-Uloum, Cairo University, was last week still barring students wearing the niqab from examination halls.

"They did not allow female students wearing the niqab to take the exams, claiming that the university had not yet received a copy of the court's verdict," Nizar Ghorab, the students' lawyer, told Al Ahram Weekly.

More than 100 lawsuits, filed by 500 female students in Minya, Fayoum, Assiut, Menoufiya, Sharqiya, Tanta, Suez and Helwan governorates, are still pending before the courts.

The issue first hit the headlines in October when Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the grand imam of Al Azhar, banned the niqab within Al Azhar University campus and affiliated classrooms and dormitories.

Tantawi's move was followed by statements from Hilal saying the niqab could no longer be worn inside women's hostels for "security concerns".

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