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A first: Veiled woman reads news on Egypt state TV


The New York Times

CAIRO — In what was called a first for Egyptian state television, a woman wearing a headscarf presented headlines in a newscast Sunday, breaking with a code of secular dress that for decades effectively barred the wearing of Islamic head coverings.

The anchor, Fatma Nabil, wearing a dark suit coat and an off-white hijab that covered her hair and neck, presented headlines at noon on Channel 1, one of several television stations operated by the state.

A vast majority of Egyptian women choose to wear some form of Islamic head covering. By Sunday evening, however, an online debate had broken out over whether Nabil's appearance might be one step in an effort by President Mohammed Morsi, a former leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, to encourage a more Islamic sensibility on Egyptian newscasts and in society.

Veiled women have been presenting the news for years on private satellite television here, including Nabil, who previously worked for the Brotherhood's satellite station, Misr 25. On Saturday, newly appointed Information Minister Salah Abdel-Maqsoud, a Brotherhood member, told an interviewer that Nabil's wearing of the hijab would represent the "enforcement of the principle of justice in the field of media," in the spirit of the Egyptian revolution, according to MENA, the official state news agency.

At least three other veiled women will soon be appearing on state television, including a weather presenter, Abdel-Maqsoud said, a shift from the standards established when state television was founded five decades ago. Though headscarves were not explicitly disallowed, in practice they were tolerated only for off-screen employees.

"Why is the veil denounced in Egypt while 70 percent of Egypt's ladies are veiled?" Abdel-Maqsoud asked, according to the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm. "It's a shame that veiled women appear on Arab and international channels while they don't in Egypt."

Under the secular authoritarians who preceded Morsi, state television functioned as a mouthpiece of the government. Until recently, state news media appeared to be campaigning against Morsi, with coverage that broadly favored the military leaders who have vied for influence with the Islamist president.

Fianally Alhamdulelah!

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