Debate rages in Egypt as priest tells Christian women to cover up

A Coptic priest’s comments about women’s clothing being too revealing in churches has sparked a heated debate this week among Egyptian Christians. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 May 2019

Debate rages in Egypt as priest tells Christian women to cover up

  • Lamei’s remarks sparked a mixed response from women in Egypt
  • Some criticized his stringent tone while others praised the priest for giving worshippers guidelines

CAIRO: A Coptic priest’s comments about women’s clothing being too revealing in churches has sparked a heated debate this week among Egyptian Christians, the largest religious minority in the Middle East.
Father Daoud Lamei, a well-known parish priest in an upmarket Cairo suburb with a sizeable social media following, lambasted Christian women for attire that he deemed immodest.
“Why are girls and women even coming to church if they’re wearing revealing and inappropriate clothes?” he said in a widely-shared video.
“She who does, will be judged,” he added. “I personally think any man, who agrees to his wife leaving her home in that way, will be judged before God.”
Lamei made the comments in an April 30 sermon marking Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated by Egypt’s Coptic Christian community.
“At least during Christmas we don’t have to worry about racy clothes because it’s cold... we want it to be cold always,” joked the popular priest.
Coptic Christians make up around 12 percent of the conservative country’s population of 100 million, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim.
Lamei’s remarks sparked a mixed response from women in Egypt, with some criticizing his stringent tone while others praised the priest for giving worshippers guidelines.
“He is condemning these women... instead of explaining the appropriate dress code and attitude in church in general — for everyone,” said Sandra Awad, a 22-year-old student who has attended Lamei’s church in the past.
But another woman, writing on Facebook, said the priest “spoke with complete respect... so they can wake up and revere the church they’re entering.”
The debate comes in the wake of a controversial online campaign calling on Christian women to “cover up, so we people can pray.”
A parallel drive urging Egyptian women to cover up for Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, also appeared this week with users drawing similarities between the two in the sexist language employed.
Lamei has denied on social media that he endorsed any online drives and did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.
St. Mark’s Church in the Heliopolis district, where he delivered the sermon, on May 6 published a link on its Facebook page to the full Easter speech.
The Coptic Church has become increasingly political under the leadership of Pope Tawadros II, an enthusiastic supporter of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
It has also taken on a more active role as the sole representative for Copts in public life as a discriminated minority.
“The clergy are role models for the community who see them as the guardians of their community, its traditions and its faith,” said Elizabeth Monier, an expert on Coptic affairs at the University of Cambridge.
“This is strongly the case when a community feels that it is under threat,” she told AFP.
“Perceived attacks on Coptic traditions or teachings are likely to lead Copts to rally around their clergy and uphold traditions more strongly,” said Monier.
A group of worshippers at a church in Upper Egypt started an online campaign last week urging fellow young women to dress modestly, which was vehemently criticized by Facebook users for its conservative language.
Marianne Sedhom, 28, a lawyer in Alexandria who took issue with Lamei’s sermon, told AFP “women in the church need to speak up more against retrograde and male-centric ideas.”
Egypt is one of the worst offenders worldwide for sexual harassment — endured by more than 99 percent of women in the county according to a 2013 United Nations report.
Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said he regarded such rhetoric as hardening attitudes that “justify harassment” toward women.
“There’s a crisis in clerical education so clergy end up tying piety to modesty,” he said.


Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

Updated 23 August 2019

Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

  • The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide

CAIRO: Egypt is seeking Japan’s help to improve its education system, which has fallen to 130th place in international rankings.

The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide, and Cairo is hoping to apply key aspects of Japan’s approach to the Egyptian curriculum.

Education has played a major role in transforming Japan from a feudal state receiving aid following World War II to a modern economic powerhouse. 

During a visit to Japan in 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed political and economic development with Japanese officials, and was also briefed on the Japanese education system.

The Egyptian leader visited Japanese schools and called on Japan to help Egypt introduce a similar system in its schools.  

As part of Egyptian-Japanese cooperation, Japan’s embassy established cultural cooperation as well as technical and professional education links between the two countries. Collaboration has been strengthened from kindergarten to post-university, with Japanese experts contributing in various education fields.

Japanese experts have held seminars in schools across the country, focusing on basic education. 

During one seminar, Japan highlighted the importance of enhancing education by playing games during kindergarten and primary school, encouraging children’s ability and desire to explore.  

Education expert Ola El-Hazeq told Arab News that the Japanese system focuses on developing students’ sense of collective worth and responsibility toward society. This starts with their surrounding environment by taking care of school buildings, educational equipment and school furniture, for example.

“Japanese schools are known for being clean,” El-Hazeq said. “The first thing that surprises a school visitor is finding sneakers placed neatly in a locker or on wooden shelves at the school entrance. Each sneaker has its owner’s name on it. This is a habit picked up at most primary and intermediate schools as well as in many high schools.”

Japanese students also clean their classrooms, collect leaves that have fallen in the playground and take out the garbage. In many cases, teachers join students to clean up schools and also public gardens and beaches during the summer holidays.

El-Hazeq added that neither the teachers nor the students find it beneath their dignity to carry out such chores.

The academic year in Japan continues for almost 11 months, different from most other countries, with the Japanese academic year starting on April 1 and ending on March 31 the following year.

Japan’s school days and hours are relatively longer in comparison with other countries. Usually the school day is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teachers normally work until 5 p.m. but sometimes up to 7 p.m. Holidays are shorter than in other countries. Spring and winter holidays are no longer than 10 days, and the summer holiday ranges from 40 to 45 days.