April 19, 2014

A personalized revolt

Like most Egyptian women, Morsi's wife Naglaa Aly dons a long, loose veil covering her hair and chest.

BY FARAH SAAFAN

With the preliminary results of the first post-Mubarak presidential election indicating that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi may become our next president, Egypt’s future first lady quickly became the subject of heated debate on social networking sites.

Just as Egyptians began to wonder about Morsi’s wife, Naglaa Aly, a photo of her began circulating on the internet creating a web frenzy over her “look” as a conservative Muslim who dons the Islamic Khimar, a type of veil that covers the hair and falls loosely below the chest.

Aly, who in a rare interview said that she prefers to be called “Om Ahmed” (The mother of Ahmed) a reference to her eldest son, was born in 1962. She married Morsi at 17 and moved with him to the US where she studied translation and worked as a translator.

But the Twittersphere was not concerned with all that.

The sarcasm spanned the gamut between derogatory comments poking fun at the way she dresses to the image she conveys about Egypt.

Someone who goes by the name “XAtaturk” on Twitter wrote: “She looks unpresentable with this cape or drapes uniform,” while political activist, Mahmoud Salem, also known as Sandmonkey tweeted: “Diplomatic representation as first lady has nothing to do with classism but with the symbol of the country.”

And even though Aly hasn’t given any public statements regarding any vital public issues, Omar Shoeb tweeted, “It’s great to have a 1st lady who hasn’t the faintest idea about progressive women’s rights. She’s not the progressive woman figure our country deserves.”

But all that was just the beginning.

Cairo Scene’s lifestyle and entertainment website “The Scenario” wrote a post titled: Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Morsi? and posted a photo of Aly with a question to readers: “Is this the woman you want to represent Egypt?”

The post was removed later that day when the website and its owners were bombarded with outraged comments by the online community.

The fact is that anyone who’s ever stepped outside Cairo’s posh neighborhoods will realize that Om Ahmed does represent the majority of Egyptian women.

The preponderant portion of women in Egypt wear the same type of long loose veil and dress that she wears. The majority of women in Egypt are not familiar with couture and A line designers. The majority of Egyptian women share Aly’s social and cultural background which ultimately renders her the most accurate reflection of the majority.

Surprisingly many of her harshest critics were the very same activists calling for freedom, equality and human rights, but equally surprisingly demanding a ‘secular’ Egypt for all.

The frenzy over Aly’s appearance exposes how many so-called rights activists were merely seeking a personalized revolution that fits into their own views of how Egypt and Egyptians should and should not be.

Since none of Aly’s opinions and views are known to the public, it is unfair, in fact, unscrupulous, to be so judgmental.

If we were to judge how capable she is of being a first lady then our foundation must be based on her opinions on the issues that matter, such as women’s rights, human rights, poverty alleviation, health care and FGM.

What she decides to put on or take off is entirely a matter of personal choice and has little to do with who she is.


Comments
33 Responses to “A personalized revolt”
  1. Max says:

    Why all this fuss about a so-called “first lady” in any case? Will she hold any kind of office? Will she have any power? Her husband has been elected, not her, and presumably by people who know what his wife looks like. But in any case, I agree that it is wrong to make assumptions about here based on her dress. One thing I have learnt in years working in the Middle East and North Africa is that it is usually a BIG mistake to make assumptions about a woman’s views based on whether or not she wears a headscarf or veil.

  2. Spiritsofar says:

    I’m in Alex at the moment, and it is exactly as you describe; the majority of women here dress in a similar way to Mrs Morsi.

    The way she dresses, I assume, is because she considers that style to be an appropriate one for Muslim women. And this being a fairly religious country (go anywhere in the country and there’s a minaret staring at you) I would go as far as to say that Mrs Morsi represents Egyptian women far more than Suzanne Mubarak ever did.

  3. George Litvinchuk (جورج حفىزوالدىن) says:

    I do not agree with the Egyptian elections this time.How can a religious extremist leaders can rule a country?? How about an ugly wife will become the first lady of this country?Irregularities may occur during the electoral process.I think the people of Egypt must soon fight for justice for the future of Egypt in the near future.

  4. Jaser says:

    we will force every women to wear this uniform whether you like it or not , even the tourists they will be forced to wear this headscarf and Jilbab , we want to prevent adultery , prostitution and night clubs , if you don’t like it go to another planet because we will prepare the troops for the Jihad and invade america uk , and eroupe , and finally go to hell we will crush you securlists and everyone tries to oppose Islam . Allah AKbar , i am the happest man in the universe and i will prepare myself and my kids for Jihad . Allah AKbar . Allah Akbar at the end of the day swines illegal people want to curse and rebuke us , ok we will put you back to your dens swines .

  5. fahd says:

    why do u think that egypt is becoming backward 100years back??? why dont u see the wife of turkish pm she wares islamic khimar ,, u egyptians have adopted your minds on the way that the last dictators and their families apearance ,,forget the old regimes those who rubbed your country , i pray to god to help this new president he is baring the sins of the old dectators ,, god help morsi

  6. Ahmed says:

    It’s sickening to read the sexist, classist comments on Naglaa, but I beg to differ with the writer’s statement that she DOES represent Egyptian women. I have been to most governorates of Egypt and I don’t believe that majority of women wear the same kind of veil as her. Khimar is rather associated with a certain class (to save money spent on a more variable wardrobe) and more common in women of older age (again associated with modesty). Most of Egypt’s population is young and so most of Egyptian women and young women and girls. Those young women and girls don’t commonly wear the khimar.

    Moreover, if you look at some rural areas and urban slums, we will find that hijab or head cover bears much less significance in those areas and you can see woman walking around with barely no head cover at all.

  7. @WilloEgy says:

    I think we all need to face the reality and start dealing with the new factual inputs our community has. Yes our community has big portion of Islamists, yes we should accept them as we ask them to accept liberals, and yes this lady is a representation of the majority of Egyptian women.
    What she wears is her choice, what she covers is her choice and what she believes in is entirely her choice. BUT what she does to us isn’t her choice and how she handles her responsibility as the first lady isn’t her choice!! And since she didn’t start her role yet, we have absolutely nothing to nag about!

  8. Mobashir Hasan says:

    Judge her by whats in her head not on her head.

    • Mir says:

      If she wore a rubber chicken on her head, we shouldn’t judge her accordingly, then? Of course not. What you wear on your head (or not, as the case may be) is indicative of what’s in it.

      • Ibrahim says:

        And comparing a religious garb to a rubber chicken certainly shows you have very little in your head Mir.

        • Mir says:

          If your argument had any merit, it would apply universally, Ibrahim. Religious attire isn’t exempt from rational discourse. And, FYI, even Al-Azhar has its naysayers about the hijab being a religious duty: http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/06/25/morocco-wearing-the-hijab-may-not-be-an-islamic-duty-says-university/

          Funnily enough, they interpret the related passages the same way I did.

          Also, please try not to be so stereotypical in personally attacking those you disagree with. It would help your image. Stick with the arguments.

        • Mir says:

          I don’t know why my comment is awaiting moderation. Perhaps because of a hyperlink? I’ve removed it to see what happens.

          Ibrahim, If Mobashir’s argument had any merit, it would apply universally. Religious attire isn’t exempt from rational discourse. And, FYI, even Al-Azhar has its naysayers about the hijab being a religious duty. Google this: MOROCCO: Wearing the hijab may not be an ‘Islamic duty’ says university

          Funnily enough, they interpret the related Quranic passages the same way I did.

          Also, please try not to be so stereotypical in personally attacking those you disagree with. It would help your image. Stick with the arguments.

  9. Swaifey says:

    i think we people started talking about her own outfit at the very same time that we were critizing MB talking about ours… if u start talking about wut she should wear and wut she shouldnt be prepared to accept the same treatment from them

  10. ErvinD says:

    Wife of a religious conservative (& elected president of Egypt) looks like… a religious conservative! Wow, such a surprise! ;)

    It’s a simple fact that some people do not like the fact that the next president of Egypt will be MB. Everything else is concentrated fluff.

  11. Hany says:

    This is the first lady, guys, don’t worry about it, we still have a chance with the 2nd lady, 3rd lady and even 4th lady. maybe one of them will be better representatives.

    it’s a shame the Egypt has become like Pakistan and Afghanistan. we use be the best country in the world back in the 40′s and 50′s.

    we need to move our country forward and not go back 100 years.

    • Swaifey says:

      when were we the best country in the world??? i dont really recall it since the ancient egyptians

      • Amr says:

        Perhaps, Hany yearn for the golden age of enlightenment where Egypt was a liberal country under the old Wafd party, but he, sadly, forgets that Egypt under the king was a limited democracy, though it was a lot better than Egypt nowadays!

  12. Ahmed says:

    While I accept that it is not right to “judge a book by its cover, or Mrs. Morsi by her attire, I do take issue with the notion that the leaders of Egypt, who should be working for the benefit of the average Egyptian, necessarily should be a manifestation of the average Egyptian themselves. Egypt needs above average leaders, with decidedly above average capabilities. These capabilities will necessarily include diplomacy. Under an Islamist president, perhaps the role of First Lady will be far more muted than her secular peers, but that remains to be seen. If the First Lady will be a public figure, her effectiveness at interacting with her global counterparts and representing the interests of – not just the common attire of – Egypt, then elements of style are fair to debate.

    We do not live in Utopia, and it is not coincidental that successful leadership, especially in a democracy, involves “shallow” traits such as popularity, style and charisma.

    With all of this said, I stand by my original view that we have no idea whéther Mrs. Morsi shall be a public figure, and whether if she is she will choose to adapt her style to suit that role in some more stately yet still modest way. In any case what she has been in a private context should not be mocked.

    • Mir says:

      Ahmed, I love what you wrote. I read a blurb about her (http://www.arabia.msn.com/gallery/Details.aspx?AlbumId=638689%7C630748&PicID=638699&Num=9&CatId=24). A lot of this checks out but I have no idea what the source is. In any case, I’m pretty sure that Naglaa won’t be participating in politics. I’ll bet she thinks that’s a man’s job, as seems to be the normative Islamist tenet.

      There are two points on which I disagree with you. I don’t think democracy is especially shallow. There may be some societies that are quite shallow, but it’s not necessarily a trait of democracy. I can think of Angela Merkel and Hilary Clinton, for example. Nothing stylish or excessive about them. They’re always dressed professionally and befitting their positions. This is the way I’d like to see women in politics dress. Male politicians wear suits and I think women in politics should too. That way, there will be much, much less emphasis placed on their fashion sense, appearance and such.

      And, au contraire, I believe mocking is quite okay. I don’t like it when people are insulting and vicious, but mockery is the best way to tell the emperor about his clothes, in the absence of any young, innocent children who would state the obvious.

  13. Mir says:

    “What she decides to put on or take off is entirely a matter of personal choice and has little to do with who she is.”

    This is simply false. What we wear reflects what we think of ourselves and what we think is appropriate, acceptable, attire.

    I think linking “piety” to a uniform is dangerous. I think women treating their hair and neck like sex organs is alarming and preposterous. And I think that the pervasiveness of this uniform in Egypt was the result of a strenuous campaign on the part of Egyptian Islamists to “un-Westernize” Egyptian women. Of note is that a tiny minority of women in Egypt used to “cover.” Now, as I’ve read, women feel they have no choice–contrary to the final sentence of this article–for fear of losing jobs, being ostracized or, worse, being harassed.

    Let’s not pretend this uniform means nothing. All uniforms have associated loyalties and ideologies.

    • Sara says:

      Yeah.. I guess Mara Carfagna nude pictures have a lot of loyalities and ideologies as well. Get it out baby looks like a more interesting ideology, i assume.

      • Mir says:

        Wow! There’s no reasonable ground between covering almost every inch of your flesh and exposing every inch of it? How absurd!

        The reasonable ground is what I’ve stated elsewhere about Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel. Is that so hard to understand?

  14. Ibrahim says:

    It’s not only that they demand a ‘secular’ Egypt, but it is the authoritarianism and bigotry they espouse. Based on a photo alone, they have decreed that religious women cannot be intelligent, progressive or modern.

    • Mir says:

      Ibrahim, is it intelligent, progressive or modern to teach young girls that men are designed to lead and women to follow? Google: Egypt’s Everywoman Finds Her Place Is in the Presidential Palace

      It’s in the New York Times article.

      I had stated my guess elsewhere on this page that this was likely the case and, lo and behold, confirmation.

  15. Saqib says:

    Anyone visited Egypt will agree that Mrs Morsi is the true and honest representation of the Egyptian society, no matter how it fits with views of secularists. Suzanne Mubarak does look posh and all that, but thats a false representation of broad Egyptian society. Most women in egypt dont dress or look like Suzanne, but they live more like Mrs Morsi. lets be honest and accurate about your presentation.

  16. Emma says:

    Surely the important point is that she had the opportunity to move to America with her husband and lived and worked there for a number of years. She has therefore stepped some way out of “Cairo’s posh neighbourhoods” and experienced a wholly different social and cultural background to the majority of Egyptian women you now purport her to represent who will never get that kind of chance. She has not yet spoken and therefore she represents nobody, except herself, silent under a cloak.

  17. Sunita says:

    Personally I do not care how the first lady looks like… I assume hewll be ruling not her. I am sure she will be styled after the elections.

    • Mostafa says:

      yes actually i think that if we are talking about real Liberty ! then we shall let her do -wear whatever she wants ! don’t u agree ?

      • Mir says:

        Mostafa, I don’t think anyone is trying to force her to wear something besides what she chooses. The arguments here are about the message she conveys by what she wears. Attire is a form of self-expression, so we can’t pretend it doesn’t mean anything.

        However, I’m not convinced that she and many others truly choose this uniform. As I’ve said, my understanding is that there was a hard-fought campaign by Islamists to pressure Egyptian women to dress “modestly” and “piously” to such an extent that, whereas hardly anyone (in cities, at any rate) “covered” by the ’70s, the resurgence of Islamism at that time changed all that and now there are very few women who do not “cover.”

        I rather think that it’s actually Islamists who do not “let her do -wear whatever she wants.”

        I also wanted to add here that superficiality does not only apply to those who are overly concerned about looking fashionable. It also applies to those who think that “covering” is synonymous with and exclusively indicative of “modesty” and “piety.” This is nonsense, superficial and is quite dangerous, for then, those who don’t “cover” are immediately judged–based on their attire alone–to be “immodest”, “impious”… therefore immoral/sinful.

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