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Cairo University bans professors from wearing niqab

Cairo University President Gaber Nassar has prohibited female professors from wearing niqab, due to complaints that women wearing a full face veil couldn’t effectively communicate with their students.

In a statement issued by the university on Wednesday, Nasser said the ban on niqab would serve to facilitate communication and protect the community’s general well-being. Nasser told the privately owned news site Sada al-Balad that the decision was related to problems in courses where communication is needed between students and their professors, not out of a desire to place a general campus-wide ban on the niqab.

The ban is “not a big deal” since there are only 10 professors wearing niqab at Cairo University, Nasser claimed, and the professors have agreed to abide by the rule. 

Mada Masr was unable to reach any of the professors for comment.

Nasser asserted that certain faculties had sent reports claiming there were communication problems between students and their niqab-wearing professors. He did not explain how the reports were prepared or how the students’ complaints were analyzed, nor which faculties the women teach in.

Mohamed Medhat, a researcher in law and society at the American University in Cairo (AUC), told Mada Masr that there are no clear guidelines for students to evaluate their professors, “so we don’t know for sure if wearing niqab is really hindering effective communication between professors and students.”

Medhat pointed to the Supreme Administrative Court’s 2007 ruling that overturned the AUC’s ban on niqab. According to the lawsuit filed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a niqab-wearing professor at Al-Azhar University had been prevented from accessing AUC’s library services due to her veil.

The ruling asserted that a ban on niqab could not be enforced except in specific cases, such as a public institution’s right to ask women to reveal their faces for security purposes.

“Women should be free to choose their dress code without facing discrimination based on their choice,” EIPR said at the time. “Today’s ruling supports women’s right to privacy and non-discrimination by setting strict legal conditions for any interference with a woman’s freedom to choose how to dress.”

Medhat explained that the court ruling guaranteeing a woman’s right to freely choose her dress code should be the determining factor in university policies on such matters.

“In addition, we lack a democratic decision-making process in this case. Were faculty and student representatives consulted before issuing this decision? I doubt it,” he added.

Medhat acknowledged that there is a clear conflict between the right of free choice and the students’ right to effectively communicate with their teachers. “However, we need to know first if niqab really makes communication worse,” he explained, “and more involvement from the student body in the process is the only guarantee that a fair decision is made.”