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Viewing cable 09CAIRO2176, EGYPT'S MUFTI ON NIQAB CONTROVERSY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09CAIRO2176 2009-11-19 10:10 2011-02-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Cairo
VZCZCXRO2484
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #2176 3231037
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 191037Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4296
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002176 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/19/2029 
TAGS: KISL SOCI KIRF KPAO KWMN EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT'S MUFTI ON NIQAB CONTROVERSY 
 
REF: CAIRO 1918 
 
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey for reason 1.4 (d).
1. Key Points -- (C) In a November 9 meeting with the Ambassador, Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gom'aa said that while the niqab (full-facial veil) is not a requirement in Islam, women should have the right to wear it if they chose. -- (C) Commenting on sectarian strife in Egypt, the Mufti said that formal inter-faith dialogue is not the answer to Egypt's internal tensions. He blamed the problem on "extremists" from each side who turn societal disputes into religious issues. -- (SBU) The Mufti expressed appreciation for the recently launched Embassy Cairo program to provide English language training to ten religious scholars from his staff. ---------------------------------- Mufti on Egypt's Niqab Controversy ----------------------------------

2. (C) Gom'aa was sanguine on the ongoing niqab controversy in Egypt, which erupted after Egypt's highest Islamic religious authority, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, banned the niqab from all-girl classrooms in the Al Azhar secondary school system (Ref A). Gom'aa prefaced his comments by saying that the niqab is not a requirement in Islam. Nonetheless, he opined that women should have the freedom to wear it if they wish, subject to legitimate security restrictions. As a father, however, he said he had advised his daughters not to wear the niqab.

3. (C) Gom'aa said that he was not concerned by the recent increase in the number of Egyptian women wearing the niqab, a phenomena that he said "comes and goes." According to Gom'aa, before Egypt's 1919 Revolution, the niqab was widespread in Egypt, and it is inaccurate to describe the niqab as "un-Egyptian." Gom'aa said the wearing of the niqab continued to decline until the 1970s, when women began to wear it again as Islamic groups gained influence. The niqab declined again after President Sadat's 1981 assassination, until reappearing in recent years. Despite the recent resurgence, Gom'aa estimated that no more than three percent of Egyptian women currently wear it. ------------------------------------ Mufti on Sectarian Conflict in Egypt ------------------------------------

4. (C) Gom'aa, who recently returned from the United States where he participated in a follow-up conference to the "Common Word" inter-faith initiative, described his strong support for international inter-faith dialogue efforts. He said, however, that he does not believe that inter-faith dialogue is the answer to sectarian tensions within Egypt. He said Egyptians, Muslim and Christian, already know and understand each other because they live together as neighbors. In his view, the problem to be addressed is "extremists," Muslim and Christian, who turn routine social friction into sectarian conflict. While acknowledging the problem, Gom'aa suggested no solutions. --------------------------------------------- ---- Embassy English Language Training at Dar al Iftah --------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) The Mufti expressed appreciation for the recently launched Embassy Cairo program to provide English language training to ten religious scholars from his staff at Dar al Iftah. (Note: The Embassy has also established English language programs with Al Azhar University and Egypt's Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic Endowments.) At Al Azhar, the Embassy's English Language Resource Center has provided English language and American cultural instruction to 110 junior faculty members since 2007. In cooperation with the Ministry of Awqaf, the Embassy has provided English language instruction to 40 Egyptian imams since the program started in 2007.) Scobey