Egypt Watch

In Egypt, your clothes could deprive you of your job

Egyptian Minister of Culture Enas Abdel Dayem has cancelled the appointment of a plastic artist as a director of one of the palaces of culture in Beheira Governorate, northern Egypt, because she is “veiled,” that is, she wears a veil that covers her entire face. 

The decision sparked controversy among intellectuals, human rights organisations, and on social media.

While some supported the minister’s decision, others said that this decision contravenes human rights, and is considered discrimination because of her choice of clothes and her beliefs.

Some considered Abdel Dayem’s decision to exclude the painter Mona el-Kammah after she was named director of the Kafr El-Dawwar Culture Palace, correct, given that work in the cultural field needs direct communication which she cannot give whilst wearing a full face veil.

Human rights activists have criticised the decision, calling it “unacceptable discrimination that violated the constitution and the law” against el-Kammah, who won the post after a public competition in which she outperformed her competitors.

Mona el-Kammah graduated from the Faculty of Fine Arts with a grade of excellence in 2012 and was appointed to the Kafr al-Dawwar Culture Palace as one of the first students.

El-Kammah was responsible for teaching painting and plastic arts in the Kafr al-Dawwar Culture Palace.

Mona said that the cancellation of her appointment came after a Facebook post accusing her of belonging to ISIS.

Mona confirmed that she does not have any political leanings and that her managers know this, according to the BBC.

She indicated that she has been working in the Kafr al-Dawwar culture palace for nine years without any complaint against her, receiving only praise from officials for her work.

She added that the veil is “part of her social life and did not hinder her from performing her work tasks.”

On the other side, the plastic artist Mohamed Abla, a member of the Creativity Front, praised the decision of the Minister of Culture to exclude Mona, asking, “How can a veiled woman work with artists and musicians as well as the general public behind a visual barrier between her and them?”

Abla believes that the decision is not an attack on the freedom of clothing and neither is it discrimination: “On the contrary, she distinguished herself by choosing to cover her face, because the veil is not the dominant dress inside Egypt, and the veil is considered transgressive of the freedom of others, as she sees them while they do not see her!”

Workers in Kafr al-Dawwar Palace of Culture refused Abla’s statements and described the decision as “unjustified” because the public sees her paintings and her art, not her veil.

The Ministry of Culture canceled the decision to appoint al-Kammah two weeks after it was issued and ordered the appointment of another employee, which angered a number of workers inside the palace.

A worker inside Kafr al-Dawwar Palace of Culture said that the decision is shocking, because she is active, efficient and very cooperative, and her veil did not prevent her communicating, adding that the decision was illogical.

In Egypt there are about 500 palaces of culture, offering activities and cultural events ranging from cinema, theatre, music, folk, and plastic arts.

Women’s rights activists refused the decision, and considered it a violation of freedom of choice and “blatant discrimination.”

“This is rejected and a violation of the woman’s right to wear what she wants, and what happened with her is discrimination against her on the basis of clothing,” said Mozn Hassan, a women’s rights activist.

Mozn added that she supports this woman and asks her to go to the administrative court to obtain her rights.

Egyptian courts are deliberating several cases calling for a ban on wearing the veil in some places for security reasons, while some members of parliament have presented a draft law not to wear the veil in public places for social and security reasons.