Sectarian tension remains high in Egypt just a few days after widespread riots rocked the country. The deadly religious violence has pitted Christian and Muslim protesters against each other. The unrest has thrown the spotlight on the country, exposing deeper changes taking place there, not least with regards to the role of women in Egyptian society. Analysts, for example, say an increasing number of Muslim students are wearing veils.
“I wear the veil to be in accordance with my religion, to protect myself before God,” said one student at the University of Cairo. Fighting for more rights is the New Woman Foundation, which says it has been subject to pressure from the police. According to the founder, Nawla Darwiche, women are denied a place in politics and the veil represents religious oppression. She said: “It’s a way of controlling a woman’s body. It’s like a chastity belt in the middle ages. It’s like female circumcision which still exists in Egypt.” However, other women, who belong to a group called Muslim Brotherhood, insist the veil has its place. Member Makarem Al Deiri was the only female Muslim candidate in the last elections. She said: “We must enforce religious values at the heart of each family because this prevents youth delinquency and helps with their education.” Georgette Sohbi belongs to the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. She is one of only 10 women in parliament, nominated by President Mubarak. She said: “If the Muslim Brotherhood takes power, they’ll change the country’s laws. I think there’d be violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims. Coptics refuse to be treated like second class citizens, without any rights.” With regard to the country’s future direction, observers say the role of religion is becoming increasingly important, especially with each side convinced they know which path is best.