Female television hosts and newscasters in Egypt can now appear on air wearing a hijab or the veil, which some of them argue is their religious right, not a compulsion. An Egyptian court in Alexandria ruled Sunday that female state television hosts have the right to choose whether or not to wear a veil, saying that it does not "stand between the woman and her work and does not pose any obstacles for the working women," but rather "conserves her dignity."
The administrative court ruling was against Egypt's Ministry of Information which lost its legal fight against a female anchor from Alexandria, Lamiyaa al-Sayed, who sued the Minister for Information, for not allowing her to appear on television wearing a veil, in a 2008 incident. The court has also fined the then minister 20,000 Egyptian pounds, for denying al-Sayed her right to wear a veil.
"Hijab banning is an issue of personal and religious freedom and that is why the decision will be revoked and the plaintiff will be compensated for all financial and psychological damages she endured," the court said in the ruling, according to the state-run MENA news agency.
The court ruling is believed to have ended decades of disagreement between female anchors and the Ministry of Information, a period during which women anchors were fired for protesting for the right to appear veiled.
Egyptian television is run predominantly by two agencies, the state-run local television and the Egyptian-government's satellite broadcaster, which airs Arabic-language programs from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, the UAE and other Arab countries. The state-run television had not allowed female anchors to wear the veil, since its beginning in the 1960s, in an effort to maintain a secular look.
Though it is diffficult to spot a veiled woman on the state-run television, the satellite broadcast in Egypt airs advertisements and programs in which women appear in veiled, conservative costumes as well as in modern, skimpy clothes. In some of the advertisements, designed to be aired across the Gulf nations -- including the ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia -- women are seen in the veil, regardless of the products (shampoo, contact lens, skin cream) being advertised.
The new ruling is being viewed as a landmark and could push Egypt's airhostesses to ensue a legal battle for their right to wear a veil onboard.