The first Egyptian satellite channel completely managed by women wearing the ‘niqab’ (full face veil) will be launched on July 20, which will mark with the first day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, an Egyptian daily reported on Thursday.
All workers in the new channel – named Maria – as well as the guests to be hosted in its programs will all be women wearing the ‘niqab’, according to Safaa al-Refaie, who is in charge of the channel.
“Niqab is a red line that cannot be crossed,” Refaie was quoted as saying by Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram daily. She refused to reveal the source of the channel’s funding.
Maria is the name of one of Prophet Mohammed’s wives, who was an Egyptian Copt. Most of the new channel’s programs will focus on religion and marital life.
“Our message will be directed at Muslim women, to teach them the Sunna (legacy) of the Prophet Mohammed,” Refaie said.
This channel was opened “to regain the dignity of women in niqab who have been persecuted and were subject to dismissal from work over the past decades,” Refaie told al-Ahram.
The hijab (headscarf), which is common in Egypt, was banned on Egyptian TV channels during former president Hosni Mubarak’s era. Female presenters were not allowed to appear on screen in the hijab.
If the channel airs a program about an issue and cannot find an expert wearing the niqab, then, according to Refaie, the channel will host the “non-niqabi” experts and give them two options: either to wear the niqab temporarily during the program, or to have their faces blurred out while the program is being aired.
Yasser Abdul Aziz, an Egyptian media expert, was quoted by Egypt Independent daily as saying that he predicted the channel would not be able to continue with the same conditions and work requirements for long, although it might attract a considerable number of viewers.
“The political and media landscape is fluid right now. The desire to get a scoop dominates media production,” he was quoted as saying.
Over the past five decades, channels that have achieved popularly were those that depended on the moderate values of the Egyptian people, Abdul Aziz said.
Meanwhile, the new channel Maria was described as a “legitimate exercise of the freedom of opinion and expression” by rights activist Negad al-Boraie. He was quoted by Egypt Independent as saying that barring unveiled women from the programs of Maria “was not a form of discrimination.”
Egyptian society should be open to all ideas and should not judge citizens according to what they are wearing, but what they are saying, he added.
“Protecting freedom of expression and opinion requires making room for both women in niqab who launch their own channel, and those who believe in other ideas,” he told the Egyptian daily.
Egypt has witnesses a rise in Islamists to power since the fall of former president Mubarak in a popular uprising in February 2011. The country is now ruled by an Islamist president, Mohammed Mursi, who has roots in the Muslim Brotherhood group, which was banned under Mubarak.