Middle East

Egypt's Mariyah TV: Channel staffed by women in niqabs

A female camera operator wearing a niqab
Image caption Men are not allowed to contribute towards policy

A new Islamist TV station staffed only by women wearing the niqab, or Islamic full face cover, has been broadcasting in Egypt since the beginning of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Mariyah TV, named after the Coptic wife of Prophet Muhammad, is the first of its kind in Egypt's history.

The aim is to empower niqab-wearing women, who suffer from marginalisation in society, channel officials say. The TV station offers them an opportunity to address issues related to Muslim women from religious, social, political and economic angles.

Launch and programming

Mariyah TV was launched on 20 July, which marked the first day of Ramadan. News of the planned launch first emerged in May 2012.

The station is owned by Sheikh Abu-Islam Muhammad Abdallah, a Salafist figure, who also owns its sister station, al-Ummah TV.

The channel's officials have said it will cover, in addition to religion, other political, economic and social issues related to women, according to the privately-owned Masrawi news website.

Programmes featured on the station include one titled "Women in the Koran", as well as "The first year of marriage" and "Success makers".

Women only

At Mariyah TV, it is not only the presenters who must be veiled, but also guests.

While the channel's officials allow a few women wearing the hijab (head cover) to do certain jobs for operational reasons, they are never allowed to appear on the screen.

The channel's director-general, female preacher Safa al-Rifai, has said that Mariyah is "a women-exclusive channel".

"Men will not be allowed to interfere in its general or programming policy," Sada al-Balad website quoted her as saying back in May.

Fight against 'marginalisation'?

The officials and staff of the channel believe that niqab-wearing women are being marginalised and discriminated against in society.

Owner Abu-Islam Muhammad Abdallah insists that the channel is not biased against non-veiled Muslim women, but that it "puts things in the right order".

"This is after the bare-faced secularist society took the veil off women and gave privilege to the bare-faced woman over the niqab-wearing one," al-Fajr newspaper quoted him as saying on 21 July.

He is confident his new media outlet will succeed and will be able to deliver "a correct media message without the women working in it revealing their faces". He also said he hopes to set up factories and companies that would hire only veiled women.

'Racist' TV

The launch of Mariyah TV has created a furore in the media, drawing flak from various circles.

Dream 2 TV's "Truth" talk show recently featured guests, including Mariyah TV presenters and critics, who debated the new channel.

Mariyah TV presenter Manal Salah al-Din said that the viewer had no right to see the face of the presenter and that she faced no difficulty communicating with the viewer because her role "is restricted to the piece of information".

However, Huda Badran, the chairman of the Arab Women's League, objected to Ms Salah al-Din's view, describing Mariyah TV as a "racist station" because viewers are prevented from seeing the presenters' faces.

"This is racism that lies in the fact that the others cannot see the face of the person they deal with at the club, on the street, at school, or elsewhere", Ms Badran said.

She insisted that the veil "does not convey the message of the person who wears it".

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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