Monday, December 7, 2015

Voting restriction in Egypt aimed at Muslim women's clothes

By: Kaitlyn Marshall
Produced & Edited by: Danielle Keeton-Olsen

Voting has become a right in many different countries around the globe. As countries aim to be more representative in their politics, they must also make sure that they have a set plan to keep things fair and honest at the voting booth. 

Egypt is no exception to these trials that naturally come about when people are trying to exercise their newly found civil rights. 

Voting in Egypt has not always been an assumed right. In fact, it was only recently that Egyptian citizens were able to let their voices be heard after years of not being given a say in who ran their country. 

After the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Egyptians decided to adopt democratic elections in their semi-presidential form of government. That meant that now, Egyptians would be allowed to vote for their president as well as some of their parliamentary members. 

Women wait in line to vote for the referendum
of constitutional amendments on March 19, 2011,
one month after the overthrow of Mubarak
(Photo via Wikimedia)

Although voting has been off to a rocky start, now Egyptian women are being met with new problems that they never had in previous elections.

Sending women out of the polls

As Egyptians everywhere were lining up to cast their second round of votes for parliament on Nov. 21, some women were being turned away. 

Women who are wearing a head covering called a ‘Niqab’ that only shows the eyes are being told they either have to take off the niqab, or not cast theirvote at all. 

The niqab is a traditional Muslim garment that some women wear to align with the religion’s stance on modesty by women. It is usually long and black and covers a woman from head to feet with only a slit showing for her eyes. 

The Egyptian government says there is an identity issue when it comes to the niqab, because poll workers can not see what the person looks like to match them to their photo ID. 

Some, like Egyptian citizen Mithras, agree that this is just a matter of security. Mithras said, “It obviously makes sense that they cannot vote while wearing it since there's no way to tell if it's actually you or Vladimir Putin for example.”

And that’s the stance the government is taking. Women must remove their niqabs while voting if they want to have their vote be taken. 

Restriction affects one religion

The niqab is not as commonly worn as the hijab, a garment worn by Muslim women that shows the face but covers the rest of the head, however there are still an unknown number of women who do choose to wear the garment as a part of their religious practices. 

This is a problem only affecting Muslim women, providing yet another limitation to their ability to vote. 

Muslim men on the other hand aren’t required to cover their faces and thus have no issues barring them from voting, however some men are just as upset about the overall treatment of Egyptian women. 

Reddit user and Egyptian citizen HiddenBehindTheMask says, “To be completely honest, I feel like Egypt is still no where near achieving equality. The way Egypt treats women makes me ashamed” and he isn’t alone in that sentiment. 

As HiddenBehindTheMask told me, “You shouldn't be denying anyone the right to vote,” he said “I genuinely don't think this will be enforced for voters outside Egypt, so why enforce it inside Egypt?”

However some did not agree with this. 

Egyptian citizen Beshai thinks that women and men are basically equal in their voting power and said women have “about as much as the men” when it comes to voting power. 

He was not alone. Ginxez, another Egyptian citizen I spoke with, seemed to be extremely happy that Egyptians were giving women and men equal right and access to vote when he said “for once we did something right...both women and men are equal in their voting powers!”

Little enthusiasm for first elections

The first round of Egyptian elections for those within the country took place Oct. 17 and 18 while elections for those Egyptian citizens living outside of Egypt took place Oct. 18 and 19. 

There was not any word from other officials about whether or not the niqab “ban” would be enforced for those who were voting outside of the country. 

Regardless of those who were allowed to vote under numerous stipulations, after the first round of parliamentary elections in the country, voter turnout was still at a low. 

According UK wire service Reuters, the long-awaited elections were seen by manyas a “sham” and that kept many people from coming out to vote. 

Egyptian voter Shady said it, “Can be summarized by both of your expression lack of apathy,weird timing,” He said, “and lack of fundamental preparation for campaigns and awareness are crucial source of confusion for the voters.”

A woman wearing a niqab protests
former President Mubarak in Jan.
2011 (Photo via Wikimedia)
Egyptian citizen Enas El Masry said, “Egypt is very diverse in it’s cultures especially across socio-econonomic classes.” This goes for females as well who are wearing the niqab. 

They are a diverse group of women with different backgrounds and belief systems who are being forced to conform to one type of Egyptian ideal that says you should be Muslim but only Muslim to a certain extent. 

While Egypt is not waging “war” on women who wear the niqab, there is still a definite divide among men and women who are voting in these parliamentary elections. It is not only that but a sign of larger problems within a state where women are fighting for political representation. 

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