A satellite channel run and hosted by fully-veiled presenters aims to break down the barriers for women in niqab, who until the revolution that brought Islamists to power were shunned by Egypt’s lucrative TV industry.
In the studios of Maria TV in Cairo, which were launched on the first day of Ramadan last week, two presenters dressed in stark black, their faces covered but for narrow eye slits and their hands gloved, discuss the editorial content for the day.
The channel named after one of the Prophet Mohammed’s wives is run by women and will only feature niqab-clad presenters, in a first for Egyptian TV, which is more known for its sexy female soap opera stars.
“The main goal of the channel is to show society that there are women in niqab who are active, who can have a role in society and be successful and be doctors, engineers or successful media personalities,” said Abeer Shaheer, the head presenter of the channel.
Until the revolution that toppled former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year and brought a Muslim Brotherhood president to power, women donning Islamic headscarves, and particularly full face veils, had been firmly kept out of the media.
“We have been oppressed for decades. We are not allowed in certain places, we are treated differently at universities and in government institutions just because we chose to exercise our freedom and add a bit of religion by wearing something we believe conforms with Islam,” she said.
Most Muslim women in Egypt wear the higab, which covers the hair, but the niqab, which covers the entire face, is becoming more popular on the streets of Cairo.
However, if the face is something that should not be seen, then why not stick to radio?
“That’s what some people have said,” Shaheer said. “They complain they can’t see the face ... or the body language.”
“So we say: ‘When you watch something, it’s the content that matters, not what the presenter looks like,’” she said.