Egyptian journalist Sharif Shubashi launched an invitation to a million man march to promote taking off the Hijab [Islamic veil] in Egypt's Tahrir Square—the famous square, in which Egyptians gathered in 2011 to overthrow the ruling regime; and that has become a symbol of change and of overthrowing all impediments to progress.
Sharif wished to confront the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other Islamic parties, who monopolized the role of spokesmen in the name of God and Islam; yet is not attempting to violate religion or its provisions in any manner. In the backdrop of the June 1967 defeat, Islamists justified this defeat as being caused by people's abandonment of religion. They stressed the veiling of women as being a religious duty—an area of significant debate. In many interpretations of Qur'anic verses as well as various hadith [sayings of the prohpet] studies, one finds a negation of the veil being a religious ordinance. The hadiths mentioning hijab as a religious duty are Ahad [i.e. of a single and, usually, unreliable, source], and in conflict with one another.
Islamists, on the other hand, reject such argument. They consider hijab a relgious duty, to which end they brandish the aforementioned hadiths as being absolutely correct; as well as basing their call to hijab on a multitude of Qur'anic verses, whose provisions were specifically intended for the wives of the Prophet—including separating them from men, as well as demanding that they cover their hair.
What is significant in this vein, is to note that this call [for the anti-hijab march] is political in origin. It is a rejection of political practices that control women in the name of religion; as well as denoting a desire to grant women the right to have freedom of their own bodies, lives, and affairs.
The problem, however, lies in the fact that the very call [to the march] is, in itself, an intrusion in matters of personal freedom. Wearing or abstaining from the veil are, in essence, purely matters of individual and private freedom; women have the right to wear it or abstain from doing so. Even men also have the same right, as many men don headgear to help prevent cold or heat, and there are other forms to cover one's head with the changing of seasons. Sharif has no right, therefore, to make such call.
This call comes in the context of the ongoing conflict between Islamists and the ruling regime. The regime is plagued by problems, while the Islamists still squarely reject the change that has led to the overthrow of [elected Islamist president Mohammad] Morsi. And while many of [current Egyptian president Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi's supporters also support this call, [Muslim] Brotherhood supporters consider it a call against God and the Prophet; a challenge to [Islamic] belief; an offense to women's modesty in the name of freedom; an attempt to uproot Egypt from its Islamic, Arabic, and identity roots; and an insult to the Qur'an and Sharia. Yet while there is an undeniable force of social rejection [of this call], it also has strong advocates and supporters.
Such calls shift the conflict from the realm of the political to the realm of the cultural and identity-related and are, therefore, quite problematic. This call speaks volumes of Sisi's failure in facing up to—and resolving—Egypt's problems; as well as the Muslim Brotherhood's failure in removing him. Such calls are, hence, used for purely political purposes, and will have repercussions as they help obfuscate and eliminate the actual conflicts—issues of democracy, poverty, the encroachment of security on public and private lives, and the growing Islamization at the hands of Islamic groups and others.
This call has become a huge event in the Arab World attracting much attention with thousands of tweets and Statuses, and many politicians, intellectuals, and artists sounding their opinions in newspapers, television, and radio stations. This demonstrates the broad overlap between the religious and the political; the broad infringement on personal freedoms; the low status of women; the intensification of the conflict between Islamists and secularists; as well as the negative use of the media. This reaction also amply demonstrates the unbearable levity that seems prevalent in raising and tackling cultural, social, and religious issues. In the meanwhile, the Egyptian and general Arab reality is suffering a steep decline in favor of other regional and global powers; is embroiled in numerous endless wars; is suffering endemic poverty and an abject absence of any industrial or agricultural development; and Arab countries becoming wholly subjugated periphery countries.
Religion, or individual religiosity, is the only area left to people—especially in a situation where they are faced with no prospects, no work, no politics, an extensive and stifling security control, and chronic failure in facing the Zionist enemy. Religious zealotry is, therefore, not without its reasons. Its causes lie in this overall failure, as well as in the active encouragement of regimes, in their attempt to escape the damage they themselves cause to their own societies. This is why, in order to avoid social conflict, these regimes project a religious aspect onto it in the event of its detonation; hence Arab states' encouragement of Islamization in various aspects.
The increment in public religiosity starting with the June  setback formed a clear statement on the closure of all individual space. Individuals have, thus, been all but denuded with nothing to cover them but God's Grace. They have been completely shunted from the realm of the real, causing a vacuum; yet, vacuum has no place to exist. This is amply exploited by Islamists and regimes alike; both have toyed disastrously with this issue. With women being most vulnerable to injustice; with religion granting them fewer rights; and with the possibility of exploiting certain [religious] texts and toying with their contexts to suite specific purposes; tightening the noose around women's necks has, therefore, become one of the more ostensible manifestations of conservatism. It is from such general climate that the generalization of keeping women home, early marriage, acceptance of polygamy, being accompanied by a male Mahram [unmarriable relative], and so on; emanates.
These calls contribute to the distortion of the already tense conflict between society and the Egyptian regime, and their transposition onto a conflict between Islamists and the military, or between Islamists and secularists. I am of the opinion that such transference of the conflict to cultural or essentialist issues, creates a rupture between these forces and currents and, thus, helps obscure and obfuscate the real problems some of which we mentioned above.
The call to take off the hijab thus assumes the mission of bringing about marginal conflicts, and reducing the conflict to one between Islamists and the regime; thereby forcing secularists to line up behind the regime. It is precisely such course of action that will open the horizon of the conflict in Egypt into full-scale civil wars!
* Opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of Rozana.