Anchor dons hijab for 1st time on Egypt state TV

Concern raised that move represents a further shift towards Islamism under the Muslim Brotherhood.

Fatma Nabil 370 (photo credit: Egyptian TV screenshot)
Fatma Nabil 370
(photo credit: Egyptian TV screenshot)
In a country where more than 70 percent of women wear a headscarf, according to Egypt’s newly appointed information minister, it stands to reason that at least one of them could be seen on television, anchoring a news show.
But until now, there was nary a scarf in sight, as state media upheld an unspoken, long-standing ban on having any woman with her head covered serve as a newsreader or anchor in official television programs.
Fatma Nabil, who gave a noon-time news bulletin on Sunday enveloped in a conservative, bone-colored headscarf, became the first veiled and therefore outwardly religious woman to deliver the news in five decades of broadcasting by Egyptian State TV.
“It is a historic day for me,” Nabil said in an interview with the newspaper Al- Masry al-Youm (Egypt Today). Nabil, who has a degree in English from Ain Shams University and has worked as a news editor for Egyptian State Radio, said she had felt “bitter injustice” in the past and added: “It is the qualifications that count, not appearances.”
Appearances, however, are quite crucial, and the choice of a veiled journalist, announced by Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud – a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood – was seen by supporters as righting a half-century of wrongs. To proponents of the headscarf, the move to appoint Nabil, who will be followed by three other veiled women, paves the way for greater acceptance of the veil in the most elite echelons of public life.
To liberal critics of President Mohamed Morsy, however, the move comes on the heels of a larger shakeup of state-run media agencies, which included replacing several leftovers from the Hosni Mubarak-era with people who are closely tied to the Brotherhood.
Having someone who wears a hijab, Abdel-Maqsoud said, was in line with the “enforcement of the principle of justice in the field of media,” according to MENA, the official state news agency.
Ashraf Khalil, a prominent Egyptian-American journalist in Cairo, said that the move to bring veiled presenters is seen by many Egyptians as ending an era of discrimination.
“Having a veiled news anchor for the first time definitely is a significant step,” said Khalil, who is the author of the recent book, Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation.
“But it also points out just how distorted things were under Mubarak and how paranoid that regime was about projecting a very particular image. The bottom line is that most adult Egyptian Muslim women are veiled, so the fact that state television is now starting to reflect that fact can only be considered a healthy thing,” he said.
“Having said that, we’re going to have to be careful to make sure the pendulum doesn’t swing too far in the other direction. If in 10 years, it is impossible for an unveiled woman to get on the air, that will be just as unhealthy,” Khalil said.
Journalists, along with many of the protesters who fought for democratic change as part of the revolution that centered on Tahrir Square in early 2011, were hoping press freedoms would flourish in the post- Mubarak era. But the hopes of some were dashed on August 8 when the Shura Council – the upper house of parliament controlled by Morsy’s Muslim Brotherhood – announced dozens of new editors at many state-owned newspapers and magazines. Critics said some of the most senior appointees were unqualified, and seemed likely to do the Brotherhood’s bidding.
Another worrying sign, Khalil said, was the prosecution of two prominent critics of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“That was particularly indefensible and a sign that the Brotherhood might be too thin-skinned to handle the kind of criticisms that come with running a newly-democratic Egypt,” Khalil added. “The good news is that the activist community here is more feisty than ever and has shown that it plans to watch Morsy very closely and keep him on his toes going forward.”