Observant Muslim nurses in Egypt might soon be forced to take off their face veils while on duty, thus exposing their hands and faces. The new decision is expected to be officially announced in March, when nurses get new uniforms and will not be allowed to don the veil, also known as a niqab, according to a report in the London-based Asharq Alawsat. Data from the Egyptian Health Ministry indicate that about a tenth of the 90,000 nurses working in state-owned hospitals in Egypt wear the face veil. A spokesman for Egypt's Health Ministry told the paper the ministry had not issued any new decisions about the veiled nurses, but said this depended on a bill being prepared on the subject. A study drawn up by the ministry indicated that the vast majority of patients preferred not to be dealt with by veiled nurses, the spokesman said. The ministry says the veil is an obstacle to communication between nurses and patients. But religious authorities in Egypt say such a decision would violate basic freedoms. The ministry insists the issue is a professional one and is not related to religion or politics. The anticipated ruling comes as the Egyptian government and the ruling National Democratic Party feel increasingly threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood, a religious movement and the most popular opposition group in the country. The brotherhood is banned, yet tolerated to some extent. A fifth of the seats in Egypt's lower parliament were taken by independents supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood in the 2005 legislative elections. Last week security forces arrested dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members, bringing the number of detainees up to more than 600 since the beginning of the year. The brotherhood said the arrests were meant to prevent its members from running in local elections on April 4. Religious MPs in the Egyptian parliament are initiating a campaign against the planned ban on veils, fearing that similar bans will be established in other areas.