Egypt’s “First Lady”

According to the present fashion of world politics, new President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi’s wife Um Ahmed will be called First Lady of Egypt. She is a simple, veil-clad lady, not highly educated; and no question of her having been in agreement of the etiquette of western politics. She also does not like to be called First Lady. Therefore, international media is very much curious. The curiosity of media lies in what would be the behaviour of Um Ahmed on the occasions demanding protocol. How would she welcome foreign heads of state in her country, whether she would shake hands with them as per the western tradition or would be content with her husband’s shaking hands with them, whether or not she would participate in photo sessions with them, and whether or not she would accompany President Morsi on foreign tours? If yes, whether her behaviour would be according to Islamic traditions or give precedence to western traditions. The media has been expressing these apprehensions right from the day when the president-ship of Morsi was confirmed. In this regard, Indian Express (June 29) has published a report with reference to New York Times. The headline is “Egypt’s new first lady symbol of democracy or a step backward?”

This concern is not sudden
 And this concern of international media is not sudden. The west has been expressing apprehensions of sorts since Islamic parties in Egypt won parliamentary elections. “Now Egypt would return to economic and cultural backwardness… The period of Middle Ages will come back… Islamic government will make anti-development decisions…., etc. etc.” One of these apprehensions was that the First Lady of Egypt would remain in veil and would not care for government and international protocol. – One example was already there before the media. – When Abdullah Gul was elected President of Turkey, his army generals put a condition for his swearing-in ceremony that his wife should participate therein without any scarf. Now Abdullah Gul and his wife had to choose between the two –participation in the swearing-in ceremony bare-headed or non-participation. Both preferred the latter option. International media made harsh comments on it. Now in the context of Egypt, commentators are thinking of the same scenario.

There must be a debate on it
But international commentators should see this issue with the angle that this is an issue of two cultures – Islamic and western. When they concede that Islamic traditions are entirely different from western culture, they should respect Islamic traditions in a Muslim country when they come in a democratic manner. Then there should also be a debate on which traditions are in accordance with high moral values and human nature, which culture having bared and disgraced woman has made her an object of mere entertainment and business advertisements and which is protector of her honour and grace. There should and must be a debate on how bringing women out of purdah has caused a havoc in human society as well as in the world of womenfolk while purdah has given her peace and protection. When practising Muslims talk of purdah and hijab, they have strong historical and moral arguments for it while the westerners have no arguments save and except playing with the sentiments of women – The followers of Sikhism and other regional units in India where the tradition of purdah or at least covering the head is present, must participate in this debate.
04// 07/12 khabar-O-Nazar by Parwaaz Rahmani, sehrozaDAWAT, translated by: Abu Yusuf

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