Egyptian femme TV presenters wigging out

CAIRO — Does a woman’s wig constitute a veil?

That might sound like a pretty preposterous or arcane question. But at the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) it is very much a hot issue, because some female TV presenters have resorted to wearing wigs as one of several ways to circumvent an unwritten but rigorously enforced rule against women TV presenters appearing on camera veiled.

The Islamic veil (hejab) is a nun-like scarf that covers a woman’s hair but leaves the face exposed. It is seen in much of the Middle East as a sartorial statement of modesty and piety.

Some femme TV announcers have preferred to quit their jobs rather than appear on camera unveiled — about a dozen of them have done so in the past year or two, according to Cairo newspaper reports.

“I had to choose between the veil and my job,” former TV presenter Camelia el Arabi told the French-lingo Cairo weekly Al Ahram Hebdo. “I chose the veil because it is a question of personal liberty.”

But other women TV announcers have found ways to have their cake and eat it too. One of the ways around the unofficial veil ban is to appear on camera with a wig — the idea being that it is not the woman’s own hair which is being exposed, but rather somebody else’s, or else a synthetic material.

This is apparently why some femme TV announcers are appearing on Egyptian channels these days with enormous beehive-like hairdos.

Another way around the no-veil rule is for femme announcers to introduce programs off-camera — doing voiceovers rather than on-camera appearances.

While this might do in introducing a docu or a kiddie cartoon program, it plainly wouldn’t work for a TV newscaster or talkshow host.

Roughly half of Egypt’s TV presenters and newsreaders are women. ERTU runs eight terrestrial and two satellite channels.

Of the scores of Egyptian women announcers currently on the air, only one is allowed to appear on camera wearing the hejab. That’s Karima Hamza, who presents a regular talkshow featuring Islamic religious figures. She is permitted to wear the veil on camera apparently because ERTU authorities thought it was appropriate due to the religious nature of her program.

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