Women in Cairo Image Credit: Agency

Cairo: A pro-government alliance of Egyptian lawmakers has unveiled a controversial plan for drafting a law banning the niqab or the full-face veil in the predominantly Muslim country.

The Egypt Support Coalition, which claims to comprise some 250 members at the 595-strong legislature, has said that the law will prohibit Muslim women from donning the head-to-toe attire in state institutions and public places.

The bid comes months after Egypt’s main public academic institution, Cairo University, barred its female teachers from wearing the niqab inside lecture halls.

In January, a court upheld the university’s ban.

Parliamentarians in the Egypt Support Coalition, which is loyal to President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi, have said the push for a ban on the niqab is pursued on religious and security grounds.

“The niqab is not an Islamic duty,” said Amna Nuseir, an MP in the alliance and a professor of Islamic creed at the Islamic Al Azhar University.

“This costume is part of Judaism and spread in the Arabian Peninsula before Islam,” she told Gulf News.

“When Islam came, it did not impose the niqab. Islam enjoins decent dressing,” she said, citing verses from the Quran urging men and women to avoid ogling at each other.

Nuseir is a vociferous opponent of the niqab. “I have said for more than 20 years that the niqab is not obligatory in Islam and have been harshly criticised for this view.”

Nuseir added that she will participate in drafting the relevant law before it is presented to the legislature.

She is not worried about facing fresh criticism. “I have been waiting for long years for this bold law,” she said.

“We seek to spread moderate Islam. Wearing the niqab in public has raised concerns in the Egyptian streets in view of the hard circumstances the country is undergoing.”

Egypt has seen an upsurge in militant attacks since the army’s 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi.

Alaa Abdul Moneim, a spokesman for the Egypt Support Coalition, defended the alliance’s anti-niqab move.

“One has the right to learn about the identity of the person sitting next to him or walking in the street,” he said. “We are seeking to prohibit the appearance of masked faces in public,” Abdul Moneim added in press remarks.

No specific date has been set for presenting the draft to parliament. However, some voices have already been raised balking at the suggested ban.

“What is bad about seeing Islam and Judaism, which are two heavily religions, agree on wearing the veil?” Abdul Moneim Fouad, a professor at Al Azhar University, said, implying his backing for the full-face veil.

“Banning the niqab will be a flagrant violation of personal freedom,” he told private satellite station Al A’sema.

“Parliament has to enact laws aimed at bringing morals back to the street and stop [people] showing up in revealing dresses in public rather than banning the niqab.”