An image grab taken from Egyptian state TV shows Egyptian anchorwoman Fatma Nabil wearing an Islamic headscarf or hijab while reading the news on Channel 1 in Cairo on September 2, 2012. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Many Egyptians rubbed their eyes in disbelief on Sunday on seeing a veiled female presenter on official television for the first time since the broadcaster was launched in the early 1960s.

Fatima Nabeel, donning the Muslim hijab headdress, appeared on Egyptian TV as one of four veiled women presenters picked for the job on state television.

“At last the revolution has reached Maspero [Egyptian TV building],” wrote Fatima in a tweet. “This decision is not a grant, but a legal right,” she added.

Fatima joined Egyptian radio as a translator in 1999. Four years later, she moved to the news desk of state television. In July 2011, five months after a revolt deposed Hosni Mubarak, Fatima was audited in a contest for new TV presenter. Although she came first, she was not allowed to appear on the screen because of her wearing the hijab.

Instead she appeared wearing the hijab on the January 25, a TV station launched by the formerly banned Muslim Brotherhood after Mubarak’s ouster. She worked for months there until she was informed of an official approval to appear on state television.

“Until now my job on Egyptian TV is limited to presenting news bulletins. It is likely that I will later host news talk shows,” Fatima, a mother of two, says. She denies she is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which the incumbent President Mohammad Mursi hails.

“The revolution [against Mubarak] erupted to set things right. Barring hijab wearers from appearing on state television was against the law, constitution and democracy,” she adds.

In 2005, an Egyptian court invalidated an information minister’s ban on veiled female presenters’ appearance on state television. The ruling was never enforced. However, such presenters have been allowed on private TV stations in this predominately Muslim country.

The latest U-turn on veiled presenters came almost a month after Salah Abdul Maqsud, a Brotherhood member, was named Egypt’s information minister, raising fears in the country about an alleged plan by the powerful group to tighten its grip on the media.

“Allowing veiled presenters on Egyptian TV applies the principle of equal opportunities in the media field,” Abdul Maqsud said in a recent interview. He added that a veil wearer will appear on state television to present the weather forecast news, a job long limited to men and women having no hair cover.

According to Ebrahim Al Sayad, the head of the news desk on state television, veiled presenters would be obliged to observe a standard hijab on appearing on the screen. “This hijab will be so simple like the one worn by ordinary Egyptian women,” he said.

Al-Sayyad, a Mubarak-era official, denied that allowing veiled presenters on state television is part of the so-called “Brotherhoodisation of the media”. “Putting on the hijab is a personal freedom, which has nothing to do with the Brotherhood or having an information minister from the Brotherhood.”

In Egypt, the information minister is responsible for public radio and TV services.