In Egypt there is no law regarding clothing but arrests continue

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The arrest of an Egyptian model after she took a video clip and photos near an ancient site wearing a Pharaonic outfit was described as “scandalous,” which caused great controversy in Egypt. Observers accused the Egyptian regime of implementing laws to improve its image as a moral regime.

Model Salma al-Shimi, on her Facebook account, posted photos of herself in front of the stepped pyramid of Djoser (Saqqara) and commented, “Queen Malbanite was found” and “The Session at night Cleopatra 2020.” After that, Egyptian media reported that al-Shimi, the photographer, and six of the administrators in charge of the archaeological area were arrested before they were later released on bail.

The incident opened the door to more arrests in Egypt, and the extent of the existence of a law, legislation, or regulation that defines the nature and shape of clothing, the places to wear them, and the conditions for wearing certain clothes in specific places. The most famous of discussions about clothes in Egypt was when Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal asked MP Ahmed Tantawi not to wear casual clothes inside the House of Representatives, claiming that parliamentary customs and traditions prohibit this. The issue has reached universities, where students are prohibited from entering the campus in torn clothes, cut trousers, shorts, robes, slippers, and transparent clothes.

It is forbidden for students to wear visas and “bromodas” (short pants), as this is considered, according to university regulations, an explicit violation of university traditions and norms, as well as violating the public morals of society. Female students are also prohibited from putting on makeup inside the university or wearing transparent clothes, short clothes, or dresses that violate public morals.

In the church, too, prayers are prohibited for women who wear “immodest” clothes, despite the affirmation of Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of Saint Mark Episcopate, that there is no law to prevent inappropriate clothing inside the church. Authorities have also sought to ban the niqab inside universities in a decision issued by their presidents. The judiciary cancelled these decisions later, but female faculty members remained under these regulations.

The arrest of al-Shimi comes as part of a campaign carried out by the Egyptian prosecution to arrest and prosecute TikTok activists, especially women, on charges of “violating family principles and values ​​in Egyptian society” and presenting “shameful” clips. From April to August, the security forces arrested more than 15 girls on the same charges; at least five of them face judicial sentences and fines. During recent months, and with the escalation of campaigns to arrest girls and young men who post on Tik Tok, many loose terms have spread.

These words, such as “public taste,” “behaviours and etiquette,” and “society’s values, principles and identity,” and “Egyptian family values,” are all loose terms that differ according to the different classes of society. Faced with this, campaigns on social media titled “After the permission of the Egyptian family” have led the way, calling for the release of the arrested women on the grounds that they are accused of insulting family principles and values ​​of Egyptian society. There are no written regulations on the values ​​of the Egyptian family to which these girls have become accustomed. Still, the Egyptian legislator treats the one hundred million Egyptians as a single military army that obeys the same standards and adopts the same values ​​and adheres to the same customs. From the Egyptian authorities’ point of view, a short video clip on the social networking site TikTok, in which a girl wears short clothes, can be considered a criminal indictment that requires trial and punishment by restricting freedom.

Human Rights Watch accuses the Egyptian authorities of launching an “abusive campaign” against women influencing social networking sites and prosecuting them on charges that “violate their rights to freedom of expression and privacy.” The Egyptians have become convinced that if you are a woman you do not belong to a social class with privileges to provide you with protection, which means that you are under constant suspicion. Especially that videos and photos of girls of the same age in the same country and through the same application and other applications, wearing similar clothes, are not criminalised. This contradiction prompted activists to compare the girls’ clothes through TikTok videos and the artists’ clothes on their Instagram pages, and their photos and videos for their warm reception at film festivals.

Perhaps what Rania Youssef raised at the El Gouna Festival over the past two years is evidence of what activists say, of the extent of the contradiction, so that the artist admitted that she liked to stir up controversy with her clothes and videos. It is noteworthy that the parliamentarian, Ghada Ajami, presented a bill last year, in which she demanded that “anyone who visits a public place respect the values, customs, traditions, and culture prevalent in Egypt, and it is not permissible to appear in a public place wearing indecent clothes.” The bill raised questions about whether its proposed texts would also punish males for wearing outfits that officials deemed as violating public decency. Despite this controversy, the bill remained in place, and no step was taken against it. Returning to the al-Shimi incident, lawyer and human rights defender Tareq al-Awadi believes that she did not commit any crime worthy of arrest.

According to Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper, al-Shimi will be punished for committing an indecent act in a public place, and Egyptian law punishes this charge with imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or a fine not exceeding EGP 300. As sociology professor Nabila al-Najjar believes, “A society that only finds in the policeman a way to control public taste is a sick society.” She adds, “What is meant by a policeman here is an official authority, not necessarily a policeman. Public decency is something that cannot be imposed by fine or coercion. Taking into account public decency is a component that comes among hundreds of other components of normal personalities.” She continues, “Attempts to dress the whole society in clothing that is subject to one standard, even if these standards are logical or even standard, are miserably unsuccessful attempts. The imposed always becomes rejected.”

A researcher in the field of women’s rights, Israa Suleiman, says, “The continuation of the intended or unintended link between morals, chastity, and public taste on the one hand, and women and girls on the other hand, is a continuation of considering women an instrument of sex, lust, and arousal.” She adds, “And this kind of closing thought is a continuation and persistence in ignoring the backwardness and isolation that afflicted society.” She continues, “A conservative appearance cannot be considered evidence of good behaviour and vice versa.”