Egypt TV channel gives veiled women a face
CAIRO (Reuters) - Abeer Shahin graduated from the prestigious American University in Cairo but struggled to find a job because of employers' aversion to her full Islamic face veil, or niqab.
But now she has found a job she hopes will change how Egyptian society views niqab wearers once and for all: she is going to work as a TV anchor for a new channel being managed and run exclusively by women who wear the full veil.
"It's unfair to deal with veiled women as a standard religious housewife. No, she can be a doctor, a professor and an engineer," said Shahin, wearing a loose black robe and a black head scarf that reveals only her eyes.
"I was told that it (TV anchorwoman wearing niqab) won't work because of the body language. Well, the tone of my voice can convey my emotions and reactions."
In an age of new freedoms in the post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt, niqab-wearing women long oppressed socially and politically are hoping for a new place in society.
Though Egypt is a deeply conservative and predominantly Muslim society, niqab wearers have cited discrimination in the job market, education and elsewhere.
There have been instances where some were even prevented from sitting their university exams.
Shahin hopes the channel, to be launched this weekend on the first day of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, will let people know "that there are successful women wearing niqab".
Stationed in a small apartment in the working class district of Abassiya, Maria TV is named after a Coptic Christian woman who was married to the Prophet Mohammad.
Three veiled women sat in a salon earlier this week waiting to submit their job applications, while others were receiving television training ahead of the launch.
Islamists have moved to the heart of political life and government since Mubarak was removed from power last year, though the founders of Maria TV said that had nothing to do with their own channel, which had been planned as far back as 2008.
Maria TV will be broadcast for six hours a day on al-Ummah channel, a religious station run by ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamists, who have emerged as a potent political force since Mubarak was deposed.
"I am sure it will be attacked ...They will say: 'Why didn't they start a radio station instead?'" said Shahin. "This amounts to the exclusion of a sector in society that shouldn't be excluded."