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May 23

Written by: Diana West
Wednesday, May 23, 2012 7:41 AM 

This (we are told) is a picture of Sheikha Safaa, the new general manager of Marya, a new Egyptian television channel (named for a Coptic concubine "gifted" to Mohammed -- yick)  is staffed entirely by fully and blackly veiled -- no, obstructed -- women, both behind and in front of the camera.

"Veiled" doesn't begin to describe the "niqab" treatment -- a winding sheet with a peep hole.

Lest we forget what "veiled" really means, here is a photograph of a veiled Marlene Dietrich in The Devil Is a Woman:

Marlene, bless her German-American heart, is veiled.

Now that that's clear, I can go on with the story, which best continues with another photo. Behold the flower of Egyptian womanhood on Concubine, I mean, Marya TV.

Call it "The Obstructed View."

It should be noted that this does not go over well with all of Egypt. Indeed, some prominent Eyptians are protesting this overt exercise in Islam. I was particularly taken with a quotation from a woman described as Egyptian actress Athar al-Hakim, who told an Egyptian women's magazine:

“I have the right to know who is talking to me on the television screen,” she said.
“The issue of niqab is a national security one and it is unacceptable in Egyptian society despite the religious diversity.”

Sounds -- gosh -- reasonable. I decided to learn more about Athar Al Hakim. Turns out, she is a very famous in Egypt, a television and movie star of long standing, often appearing as the usually star-crossed romantic leading lady.

Athar (above) doesn't wear a niqab, that's for sure. In fact, from her blonde highlights to her pink lipstick, she looks Western-influenced. My survey of Athar articles and interviews, however,  reveals that this Western influence is no more than skin deep.

I'll begin with a 2001 interview in Al Ahram.

And remember -- this is our no-niqab-news champion!


She found success at the very beginning of her career, and considered that a sign from God that she should pursue acting. ...

"My father would sign the contracts for me. He was very strong, a difficult character, but he encouraged and supported me. He was full of contradictions."...

El-Hakim has three sons: Omar 12, Ali, 10, and Abdel-Rahman, nine. She wanted to have five or six. How about a girl? I ventured. "Never. I wouldn't be fair to her. I would want her to veil the moment she was born." Isn't that a little extreme? On this note, El-Hakim started to open up about her personal life. She wasn't welcomed as the first-born in a family that wanted boys. She had to work very hard to prove herself, and "I feared men. Sometimes I think I hated them. I was a very difficult, rebellious daughter, maybe because I missed having a real man in my life since my childhood. My father was very strong, tough, revered by many people, but I missed him in my life as a protector and a friend. He only gave orders; I missed the company of a man of my flesh and blood. The discrimination in my family between girls and boys affected my relationship with men too. I thought I'd live without them my whole life."...

What Athar begins to describe here and elaborates on below is the same warping vortex of pain that Islam inflicts on generation after generation of women, as chronicled so vividly by Wafa Sultan in A God Who Hates.

We learn Athar is twice divorced.

She has channeled all the energy she used to dedicate to her husband (whose name she does not mention once, referring to him only as "the father of my children") into humanitarian causes.

Such as?

She was one of many singers and movie stars to collaborate on a recent song titled "Jerusalem Will Be Ours Once More."

Sounds like Yusef al Qaradawi's February 2011 speech in Tahrir Square calling for the conquest of Jerusalem (which went virtually unreported by the media).

Back to Athar:

Since when has she been interested in the Palestinian cause? "It is not the Palestinian cause itself, it is that I have more time now." She has given blood, boarded the first Egyptian plane to break the air embargo against [Saddam's] Iraq last October, and visited Qana in south Lebanon last April, on the fourth anniversary of the massacre. "I had these feelings before I had my children, but I have more time now," she explains. ...

Her dream now is to act in a movie based on a real story about a Palestinian woman who spent her childhood in Jaffa and Jerusalem and moved to Egypt as an adult: Al-Kharaz Al-Mulawwan (Coloured Beads), written by Mohamed Salmawy. "No movie in Arab cinema has tackled the Palestinian cause directly...."

Does she think she will stop acting at some point? She doesn't like the question. "I see no contradiction between veiling and acting, or maybe directing."

Seems as if she has "veiling" on the brain.

El-Hakim has been attending religious seminars for more than 10 years and when she reads she prefers religious books, because "most of us suffer from religious illiteracy." ...

She is also a strict mother who believes in hitting her children if they don't pray, as her father used to do to her. "He used to hit me for a lot of things. I used to say my father was harsh and difficult. Now I understand: he was right. Especially in adolescence, strictness, even a little bit of violence, is necessary. I hit them quite hard. I know they would prefer their father, who is the other extreme."

Therein lay the irreconcilable differences? She doesn't say.

Athar did in the end stop acting, one decade after the Al Ahram interview. She announced her retirement in August 2011:

Prominent Egyptian actress Athar Al Hakim has publicly announced that her decision to resign from the acting world is final. At the same time, Athar said that she does not intend on wearing the hijab (Islamic headdress) and start preaching because it is not her place to do so.

Athar stated that she considers the entertainment world to be more corrupt than the political world for it is full of superficial people, adding that most of the films being produced are full of indecent and provocative scenes that aim at brainwashing viewers. ...

Athar noted that she wants to make a career shift and may consider journalism and has in fact received numerous offers to work as a television broadcaster but has not accepted any so far. Athar stressed that what she wants to concentrate on in the current moment is becoming closer to God.

(In February 2012, Athar let it be known that one of the main reasons for her retirement was the "seductive clothing" of Dina the belly dancer (below).

No comment.

Let's try to put it all together: Retired romantic leading lady. Would have veiled her baby girl. Beat her sons for not praying. Wants to capture Jerusalem. Now campaigns for former leader of the  Muslim Brotherhood Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh in his run for Egyptian president.

Sounds MB- and sharia-compatible.

She just doesn't want her news through a veil.

She also has (or had?) blonde highlights.

What gives?

I go back to her retirement announcement of last August:

Prominent Egyptian actress Athar Al Hakim has publicly announced that her decision to resign from the acting world is final. At the same time, Athar said that she does not intend on wearing the hijab (Islamic headdress) and start preaching because it is not her place to do so.

My hunch is she has another "place."


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