cherchez the telepreacher !

Mostafa Hosni

The young and cocky telepreacher stood with a teacher cane in hand next to a row of female mannequins wearing what has become the Islamic dress de rigeur for women in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East: trousers under a skirt or a long dress with a colourful headscarf (or hijab) covering the hair.

The purpose of the show was to demonstrate how unIslamic this dress really was. As he pointed with the cane at various parts of the mannequin figure, he said that although they are covered, the different items of clothing still showed the contours of the body and that was “fitna” – seductive.

In fact, the word “fitna” has far greater and more dangerous meanings such as “civil war” – see what women can do in the medievalist imagination of Islamism!

The telepreacher faulted one hijab in particular for not covering the ears properly. Even worse, he added, if a pair of earrings were to dangle from those exposed lobes. Mind you, this particular telepreacher is a modern looking young man, wearing jeans and a shirt, and looks every bit like a pop star. He is not the usual suspect with a long beard and clerical dress or Wahhabi head gear. Yet, when it comes to women, they are all the same.

This obsession with the female body — bordering on the obscene in my opinion — has been a universal feature of the so-called Islamist revival. In addition, that obsession was once again at the centre of public debate last month in Egypt.

 

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Following the latest sexual harassment outrage during celebrations in Tahrir Square after it was announced that Field Marshal Abdelfattah Al-Sisi has won the presidential “race”, a group of youth were caught on camera lynching and stripping naked a young woman. The motive may have been sexual, but the brutality and barbarity of the attack was nothing short of what you would normally call lynching.

There was a public outrage, mixed and confused as always with the old-new questions about whatever happened to the Egyptians, and the abysmal decline in moral standards and the breakdown of law and order. Some sought to blame the young man who caught the incident on the camera of his mobile phone. Others — Muslim Brother activists — tried to score cheap political points by laying the blame on supporters of Mr Al-Sissi , since the attack happened in their midst.

The incident reignited the old debate about the glaring contradiction between the apparent increase in religiosity across the board in Egyptian society and the well-documented dramatic rise in the number of sexual harassment incidents. Many compared the Egypt of today with that of the nineteen thirties, forties and all the way up to the seventies when women wore revealing clothes, yet society back then was far more tolerant and accepting.

No one can deny that sexual harassment did happen back then, but nothing on the scale and intensity Egypt has seen recently, prompting the Egyptian organisation for the rights of women to describe it as a social cancer.

Some laid the blame – rightly I think — on the telepreachers who had for decades sought to demonise women and banish them from the public sphere altogether to avoid “fitna” or seduction. That despite the fact that the vast majority of women are now abiding by some kind of an Islamic dress code. However, that apparently is not “Islamic” enough, as we have just seen from the above-mentioned telepreacher, who for him any hint of the female body will trap the poor youth and hurl them straight through the gates of hell.

I have yet to see an Islamist who is prepared to accept responsibility for the role their discourse has played in the dehumanisation and obsessive sexualisation of the female body. Ironically, they share that unhealthy obsession with the pornographic industry. The Islamists and their cohorts insist that their real aim is to “protect” women, a dubious claim at best, which, if examined carefully, will show that what they really want is to banish women from public life.

Rather than making the behaviour of men the focus of their preaching and try to teach them how to live in the modern world ( a long shot, I know), they seek to use incidents of harassment as a confirmation of the perils of mixing of the sexes and of allowing women to be out on the streets on their own. In their bizarre world, the inability of men to behave morally is material proof that women are intrinsically dangerous, fitna.

{this piece was written for IslamistGate : http://www.islamistgate.com/817}

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Magdi Abdelhadi

Writer, broadcaster, moderator, media consultant. I commute between London and Cairo. I am a former BBC journalist. All views here are only mine.

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