- Ahmed Al Shami
- BBC News Arabic
Since 2015, veiled Egyptian women have taken to social media to complain of discrimination.
Mayar Omar, a 25-year-old director of research who lives in Cairo, says that she encountered recurring problems when she went to some high-end restaurants, where “a person wants to feel himself when he enters a place and no one imposes something on him, or makes you feel that you are the cause of the problem.” To the place or to your girlfriends…and all of this can affect a person without him feeling.”
In social media groups related to the hijabi lifestyle, we have found what appears to be a growing trend, with women accusing many places of refusing entry to them because of their hijab.
BBC News Arabic tried to book 15 high-end restaurants across Cairo, and it was the Internet that was most accused of discrimination against veiled women.
Most places asked to see the social media accounts of all guests, and 11 of the places that responded stated that head coverings were not allowed.
We sent a man and his veiled wife, in disguise, to some of these places, which told us that veiled women were not allowed in.
At Laubergen, a restaurant and bar in the upscale neighborhood of Zamalek, the clerk at the door immediately informed our team that headscarves are forbidden as there is a bar in the place. When we spoke to the manager, he was also adamant that “the headscarf is forbidden.”
We were told by L’Obergen that our evidence was “inaccurate” and that refusing entry to veiled women was not part of the venue’s rules and “we condemn it”. The venue also told us, “We have confirmed our internal policy to our employees to avoid any confusion in the future.”
In Kazan, a restaurant and bar in the same area, our team was again told by the reception staff that “the problem is the headscarf”. When we asked why, they replied simply: “These are the rules of the place.”
At the last place, Andiamo Pizza Garden and Bar in Heliopolis, our team’s request to enter was refused at first, but after objection, we were told that we can enter but we have to sit in a corner. The director justified this by saying: “These are the instructions of the Ministry of Tourism, and if they find a veiled woman next to the bar, they will impose a fine on us.”
Neither Kazan nor Andiamo have responded to our requests for comment.
We showed our evidence to Adel Al-Masry, head of the Chamber of Tourism Establishments and Restaurants, who told the BBC: “In no era of tourism has there been a decision banning the entry of veiled women (to places of entertainment). This is not acceptable. Discrimination is not acceptable, these are public places.”
The vast majority of women in Egypt are veiled, so why do places have such policies?
“In most cases, the main reason is class,” explains Nada Nashaat, a lawyer and women’s rights activist. She adds, “Unfortunately, the veil has become a popular dress for people. But we also find discrimination against the non-veiled from the middle and popular classes.”
BBC News Arabic has also obtained evidence suggesting that La Vista, a large property developer, is imposing restrictions on veiled women who want to buy apartments in tourist villages. The company has projects in Cairo in addition to many high-end projects in coastal areas.
She has previously sold properties to veiled women, but we found many posts on social media accusing La Vista of changing its policy now and placing restrictions on them.
A manager at a multinational company told us how he had contacted several real estate brokerages to buy a property in La Vista, but they told him when he called, “We’re sorry, La Vista is a bit strict about the hijab.”
We called eight major real estate brokers, and a member of our team masqueraded as the husband of a veiled woman and wanted to buy a unit in the coastal La Vista development.
Six brokers told us it was not possible to buy at La Vista and advised us to look elsewhere. One told our disguised reporter: “Can I be honest with you? Sure, look for an alternative.” Another broker went on to say, “To be honest with you, they are racist regarding the North Coast and Ain Sukhna.”
A real estate broker explained how they work: “They won’t say ‘we won’t sell to you’ but ‘This project you chose is now closed and we will call you when it opens. But they won’t call you.”
When our disguised reporter phoned La Vista and stated that his wife wore a headscarf, he was told that his name would be put on a waiting list and that no properties were available.
Several weeks later, he visited La Vista’s office, but this time he did not mention that his wife was wearing a headscarf. He was informed that real estate units were available for immediate delivery, and when he asked them what kind of people were living in La Vista, the company’s agent told him, “The idea is that all people here are the same.” She stated that one of the La Vista complexes “does not have any veiled women.”
La Vista has not responded to BBC requests for comment at press time.
“If we continue down this path of discrimination, we will live in closed bubbles in a society where no one understands the other,” said Amira Saber, an Egyptian parliamentarian and activist in the defense of women’s rights. She added that the Egyptian constitution is clear, that this type of discrimination is not allowed, “I will certainly use one of my parliamentary tools to ask officials in the government how we can ensure that this does not happen again. And if it happens, the guilty must be punished.”
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