How the Veil Conquered Cairo University

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Nonie Darwish, the co-founder of and the author of Cruel and Usual Punishment.

FP: Nonie Darwish, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Today I would like to discuss with you the photos we are exhibiting below of Cairo University graduates over the course of this era. There are the 1959 and 1978 photos compared to the 1995 and 2004 photos.

These pictures tell quite a story. Radical Islam has taken over even the minds of educated women in the Muslim world.

Since you’re from Egypt, I would like to get your take on this phenomenon. What’s going on here? One would think that people yearn for freedom rather than enslavement, but I guess life experience and human history tells us otherwise – when it comes to certain cultures. Being from Russia, I’m not too surprised with many Russians’ adoration of a thug despot like Putin and even their pining for Joseph Stalin.

Let’s first show these pics and then you share your thoughts on them.





Darwish: These photos represent the gradual but steady Islamic radicalization invading the Middle East and the rest of the world in the last three decades. I lived in Egypt until the year 1978 and have never wore a head cover, neither did my mother or grandmother. And this is thanks to a feminist movement that started in Cairo in 1919 under the leadership of the famous Egyptian feminist Hoda Shaarawi.

Shaarawi had attended women’s conferences in Europe and Turkey, which was undergoing major reforms by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who wanted to be more like Europe and less like Muslim Arabia. Upon her return from a trip to Rome in 1923, Shaarawi performed a bold act that became the central symbol of her life: with the support of several upper class Egyptian women, she removed her veil in public, at the crowded Cairo train station.  If such an act of defiance had happened today in Iran or even Egypt, she would be executed by the Iranian government and, as to Egypt, she could be killed by an Islamist on the street for defying or insulting Islam.

FP: What were the circumstances at that time that allowed Hoda Shaarawi to engage in this act of freedom of conscience?

Darwish: The reason she was not killed then but actually protected, and was able to start a reform movement in Egypt, was due to many reasons. First and most important was the existence of the British in the area. They helped protected the peace, minorities and equal rights. Second, the Egyptian king was moderate and wanted to bring modernity to Egypt.  Third, this was the pre-petrodollar era of wealth in Saudi Arabia which was still weak and poor. Fourth, the Muslim Brotherhood was not yet in existence.

FP: How and why have things changed?

Darwish: Things started drastically changing after the Egyptian 1952 coup which ousted King Farouk and the British. Even though that coup appeared secular, none of the rebel ‘free officers’ were Christian Egyptians and almost all were members of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the impact of the Muslim Brotherhood was delayed for a decade after the revolution when they attempted to assassinate Nasser who killed and imprisoned many members of its members. After Nasser died, the Muslim Brotherhood was empowered and with it the status of women. That coincided with Saudi petrodollars and the Iranian revolution, both of which brought power of Islamists to the whole area.

FP: Talk about these photos.

Darwish: The first 1959 photo reflects the influence of the Sharaawi feminist movement which existed until the death of Nasser. However, I must stress that the Egyptian feminist movement which started in 1919 and ended in the late 70’s, and which freed Egyptian women from the hijab, was more cosmetic than true Western-style liberation. Women still had to abide by Sharia law when it came to marriage and family matters and the culture still practiced segregation of the sexes and honor killing.

FP: So why did many of Egypt’s women, and educated women, become more radicalized and turn to the veil?

Darwish: As we see in the photos, the change was gradual, from 1959 of no head covers at all, to 2004 where almost all women, even some young girls, are wearing head covers. It must be noted that the Egyptian government, unlike Iran, does not force the head cover on women.  Religious and social pressure on Egyptian women was the cause for the change. Feminists such as Shaarawi are now threatened and accused of apostasy, forcing the Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi to leave the country. And now we see that some of the harshest critics of Muslim women reformists and human rights activists are none other than Muslim women.

The Muslim woman’s attire is the first thing noticeable in any Muslim country and is dictated by Islamic law. Some devout Muslim women chose to carry the torch of Islam by wearing the burqa on their own and exhibit their piety and devotion to their faith. Those were the ones who were rewarded and respected by society. The rest were left in a quagmire, either choose to be viewed as devout Muslims or as outcast rebel apostates. The majority chose the former since perception and image is extremely important in Muslim society where the uncovered head can be regarded as a defiant image of rebelliousness. After some acts of violence on the street against uncovered women, even some Christian girls found it safer to cover their heads so they were not noticed. How can feminism be practiced openly let alone survive under such conditions?

FP: What does the future hold?

Darwish: Muslim women in the Middle East have never developed a relationship of solidarity and support for their rights and freedoms. To the contrary, they often have hostile relationships where women often report other women when they violate social and religious taboos. Most have developed a holier than thou attitude towards other women. In such an atmosphere many found that if they want respect and even financial rewards, then they must be as radical, if not more radical then men. Some women do not even talk or communicate with women who are uncovered. This happened to me personally when I visited Egypt in 2001 and was wearing a conservative one piece bathing suit on the beach and a couple of covered up women in a group I was with would not talk to me.

In the beginning of our interview you asked why educated Egyptian women choose going back to the old days of the repression of the Burqa. The reasons are many and complex. Muslim women were left with two choices; to be in a constant struggle against Islamization and merciless rejection by society or if you can’t beat them, then join them. Another reason is nationalism, Arab pride and rejection of Western influence. Arab nationalism and pride came at the same time with the sudden wealth from petro-dollars which empowered radial Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Muslim countries have an obsession against free democracies that are prosperous and give women equal rights. Muslim leaders are having a hard time convincing their citizens that the Muslim system is better than Western democracies and thus the media and preaching is consumed with hate propaganda against the West, telling the West we reject your culture, the way you dress etc. I actually remember mosque sermons telling us how Western civilization is corrupt, satanic and we should not befriend them or imitate them in any way shape or form.

The return of the Burqa movement has also migrated to the West. When I moved to the US in 1978 I visited some Muslim girlfriends at UCLA and none of them wore the head cover. Many Muslims who moved to the States in the same year with me never wore the head cover back in Egypt. However, I have seen some of these immigrants a decade later with full Islamic attire. Even on US college campuses the movement is the same, Muslim students are proud to wear their Islamic outfit and refuse to assimilate. The trend is everywhere, just like in the Egyptian photos.

FP: So then what is the future of true women’s rights under Islam?

Darwish: Many believe that Islam’s treatment of women is on its way to being reformed and that it is just a matter of time until Muslim women will wise up, figure what must be done, stand together in unity and march for their equality and human rights. That happened to women in the West, so why not to Muslim women in the Middle East?

There is a major difference: in the West, Christianity did not come with thousands of pages of Jesus’s laws regulating every detail in a Christian’s life to control every Christian. Jesus did not call women deficient in intelligence and lacking in religion or that they are toys, slaves in a marriage. Very simply Western feminists were not confronted with the many dead ends that the Muslim feminist is confronting.

Many also believe that the reformation of Sharia and Islam itself will come from its most oppressed group: women. I disagree with that view, partially because the woman is largely the object of extreme regulation in Sharia (Allah’s law).

Expecting Muslim women to be behind the reformation of Islam and Sharia, is like asking slaves to end their own slavery without their masters’ approval or asking prisoners to get out of prison without the guards opening the doors. That is the reason Muslim Feminism has not succeeded in getting the majority of Muslim women on board. A Muslim woman’s inferior status in Muslim society has gone too deep and has become institutionalized. Muslim societies, cultures and institutions are dependent on it. For Muslim women to simply revolt against Islamic gender apartheid will be regarded as anti-man, anti-family, anti-religion, anti-government and worst of all, anti-Allah himself.

FP: Nonie Darwish, thank you for joining us. And again, thank you for being the brave freedom fighter that you are.

And I encourage all our readers to get their hands on Nonie Darwish’s book Cruel and Usual Punishment.

  • gama

    See British Imperialism wasn't so bad afterall.
    Take up the Infidel's burden–
    And reap his old reward:
    The blame of those ye better,
    The hate of those ye guard–
    The cry of hosts ye humour
    (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
    "Why brought he us from bondage,
    Our loved Egyptian night?"
    by Rudyard Kipling (Infidel was substituted for White Man)

  • The_Inquisitor

    "Arab nationalism and pride …"

    Pride??! LOL What have these barbaric camel jockeys got to be proud of except sitting on a pool of oil?

    • Ameera Samy

      Congratulations. You have won "most ignorant statement" of the week,

      I will not waste time telling you why. Here's to hoping you are "inquisitve" enough.

  • richard

    coming to the west…enjoy!

  • Turbeaux

    When you guys use words like radical or more radicalized you remind me of the Muslim women who have been cowed by Islamic society back to wearing full Islamic dress. Muslim women didn't become radicalized, they became more fundamental, religious, and cognizant of their religion due to intense peer pressure inherent in Islamic society via Sharia law, which seeks to control every single aspect of Muslim's lives.

    Constantly using words like radical and radicalized promotes the political correct multicultural myth that there are two versions of Islam, the peaceful and moderate version that most peaceful and moderate Muslims today practice and the radical extremist version that only a tiny minority of Muslims in the world today practice.

    However, the real reality is there is just one version of Islam and one text and tenants of Islam and all sects of Islam and all schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach Muslims, however you may define or label them, that non-Muslim kafir infidels much be subjugated or even killed to make Islam supreme throughout the world.

    Moreover, there are many forms of jihad, both violent and non-violent, that all Muslims are obligated to participate in. While it is true that some Muslims choose to become terrorists and thereby participate in violent jihad, the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims, on the other hand, choose to participate in non-violent forms of jihad such as the demographic conquest of the West, campaigns of dawa, and the extensive use of the money weapon whereby oil profits are used to purchase influence in high places.

    In any event, if you guys continue to pay tribute to political correct multiculturalism by using words such as radical and extremist to describe Muslims, the correct understanding of Islam and Muslims will never become prevalent, and the Islamization of the West and indeed the entire world will continue full speed ahead.

    Indeed, the single biggest obstacle standing in the way of stopping the Islamization of the West and the entire world today is this absurd political correct multicultural model whereby Islam is believed to be a so-called Religion of Peace™ and that the vast overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world today are believed to be moderate and peace loving, even when that model is so demonstrably false.

    • xman

      You're absolutely bang on the money, and I don't know why anyone knocked you down a mark (unless it was a passing Jihjadi sympathiser). And thats it. A hideous bag like a burqa in the West is an "Up Yours" sign directed at Westerners in general and Western civilization in particular.

    • Stephen_Brady

      Very good post!

      However, in the spirit of playing Devil's Advocate:

      In the Roman Catholic Church, there was a time when all women were expected to cover their heads, when they entered the sanctuary. In our local area, there are four RC churches. In one of them, all of the women are still expected to cover their heads. In the other churches, the women are a mix of those who still wear hats or scarves, and those who go uncovered.

      Could it still be argued that … despite the differences in local parishes … there is still only one Roman Catholic faith?

      This is not to argue that those women who go covered into the sanctuary will become madcap denouncers of those who don't. The Christian faith … Catholic and Protestant … has matured, over the centuries. I simply thought it was an interesting question.

  • Peachey

    I would love to see the words "radicalized" and "extremist" eliminated from the conversation. No one within Islam becomes radicalized. They have instead chosen to follow the Koran and teachings of Mohammed exactly as written and taught. The terms are your basic politically correct lipstick used to dress up a system of the worship of a pagan moon-god that promotes the destruction of the human soul instead of elevating it. Islam is exactly what it is appears to be. A destructive and deadly form of human slavery.


      I AGREE 100% WITH YOU.

  • Theodore

    Bravo Nonie!!! Bravo!! You are a hero to every lover of the free world.

  • Historyscoper

    Women are the key to ending Sharia, but only after the Western countries bite the bullet and unite and invade Sharia countries and occupy them, then separate the women and children from the men for an entire generation to end the cycle. Read my plan for winning the war against radical Islam at

  • John C. Davidson

    I am totally against this practice of covering a womans face in public, but waver when confronted with the likes of a liberal activist.

  • William Smart

    The British may be remembered fondly in Egypt and the Middle East by current generations, but America was much better regarded before and after WW1. The British had never been keen on democracy and Balfour had secretly promised to rob the Palestinians of everything.

    By comparison, the King-crane Commission spent six weeks in Syria and Palestine and in 1919 reported "The commissioners began their study of Zionism with minds predisposed in favour … The fact came out repeatedly in the Commission's conferences with Jewish representatives that the Zionists looked forward to practically complete dispossession of the present non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine … To subject a people so minded to unlimited Jewish immigration, and to steady financial and social pressure to surrender the land, would be a gross violation of the principle just quoted … No British officers, consulted by the Commissioners, believed that the Zionist program could be carried out except by force of arms. The officers generally thought that a force of not less than fifty thousand soldiers would be required even to initiate the program. That of itself is evidence of a strong sense of the injustice of the Zionist program…The initial claim, often submitted by Zionist representatives, that they have a 'right' to Palestine based on occupation of two thousand years ago, can barely be seriously considered."

    And the US stood for democracy in the Middle East right up until the 1950s. It was years of bitter experience after that date, including support of Israel against the whole of the rest of the world, which now makes them so hated.

    • Turbeaux

      Except for the fact that until after the 1967 Six Day War there were no Palestinians as former PLO leader and Syrian Defense Minister, Zuhair Mohsen, famously elucidated to the Dutch newspaper Trouw in March 1977:

      [i]"The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct Palestinian people to oppose Zionism.

      "For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan."[/i]

      • Peachey

        Your assessment is correct as I have posted before. The term Palestinian is a political confabulation and needs to be stopped. There are no "Palestinians". Since both Jordan and Egypt have sufficient territory to give to this undesirable tribe of arabs, it would be more appropriate for them to take them in and provide land and resources for them. Saudi Arabia could easily give land and resources for the "Palestinians". Since no country wants this illiterate,poverty and welfare-driven population, I expect the continued push for Israel to surrender it's territory by those that seek it's demise.

      • Democracy First

        Excellent retort to anti-Semite Smart.

  • Nilsson

    So Muslim Egyptian women have a perfect right to dress as they like, except when it conflicts with the style preferences of western infidels? Then they must OF COURSE have been brainwashed or terrified by mullahs, poor weak little dears.

    Ah. I see. Where would the world be without Jewish neocons to set the 'cattle' straight?

    • Stephen_Brady

      At least, you are the only person I've ever encountered on the net who uses the term "neocon" in code and with its translation, "Jewish".

      All over the web, I see people use the term "neocon" and challenge them to be blunt and honest … that neocon, as used by the Left, is simply Leftist code for their own anti-Semitism.

      Thanks for proving me right, Nilsson.

    • Happy and Proud

      I agree with Steven_Brady. It's rare to see someone admit so openly to being an antisemitic racist.

  • Nicole Sparks

    Jews and Muslims are all the same, your making wars in your religion. Is this what your so called religion wants? Destroying a precious human lives?

  • timeklek

    YES! Wish to hear more on Muslims giving land to so called Palestinians. Jews have suffered enough already. 'GOD Bless Israel.

  • qwertyhq

    Could it be at all possible that these women are themselves choosing to wear the veil because they want to?

  • Happy and Proud

    Darwish is saying that "choosing" to wear the veil is not necessarily a free choice, because women will be subject to assault and discrimination if they don't wear it. They may not be forced to by law, but in practical terms there is no real choice if they don't want to be beaten or thrown out of the house.

  • lizhenhou

    I like your article,in fact,i focus on the political news always.In my opinion,a person who care about the country is grade!Now i carry on my bvlgari watch,tissot gold watches,tissot classic watches,tissot diamonds watches,tissot trend watches,and i want to know the trend of the market,give me some idea,thanks.

  • Cat insurance

    Nonie! You are an inspiration to us all – God bless us all!

  • kate5778b

    I hope people remember that this piece exists, as in the Telegraph (UK) Yesterday, it stated that Cameron's govt. is going to ban Christian crosses, because Christians won't cause a riot.

    Please write to him at the 10 Downing Street address and inform him that the veil is NOT Islamic, it is political, quote this piece.

    If you are a blogger, can you bring this piece to mind on UK sites and urge people to write to the govt.

    Many thanks.

    kate b

  • kate5778b


    The wearing of Christian crosses (not banning them on churches &……not yet, anyway)

  • Iman

    I think the world should also study another cause of the veiling in an other way: what if the muslim women (and all these other smart and educated women converting to Islam), are finding confort and respect in the veil, that Nonie and others have not got the chance of experiencing? In many non-islamic countries, women are freely choosing the veil in growing numbers. And moreover, many are entering Islam dispite what y'all think of Islam… I think today's global family destruction, lack of morals, of positive humanity in people should make humanity reconsider Their thoughts upon Islam and the traditional morals of the society.
    Moreover, Islam is not what you commented it is. Because I am sure if it was as bad, destructive, hateful,… As you discribed, the world would be upside down now….
    If at least youbelieve in a Unique God, pray that He clears it all for you

  • shosh7154


  • H Högberg

    Don´t forget – Charles Martel, Poitiers 732 Anno Domini! If you don´t remember, use an encyclopedia or Wikipedia.

  • obscuremedia1

    What is particularly bothersome about the whole ‘Islamic Movement’ is that it is taking a strong hold in North America. I’m from Canada and are one of the most liberal countries when it comes to human rights. In Quebec they are are telling Islamic women they MUST do away with their headcoverings in government buildings or else they will not be served. I have seen a steady rise of Islamic women in my neighbourhood beginning to wear them and a couple of women who didn’t wear them about ten years ago, are now wearing them. As a Western-born woman I’m getting to the point I’m afraid of an invasion and being told at some point I must cover myself….I’m Canadian, not Islamic and this trend is bothersome. There are more Islamic women in my neighbourhood than there were five years ago and I hate that my country will NOT tell them they don’t have to wear them.

    Then that brings about the issue of pressure within their own culture. I’ve known some Islamic women who have pressured sisters, aunts, etc, to wear them and the ones who won’t, are told they are not Islam if they don’t. Since when did a need to protect oneself from desert heat and sand become a mandatory cultural thing? And it’s mostly women. Thing that bothers me too is I see little girls holding hands with their Islamic mothers and think once they begin menstruation, they must begin covering themselves despite the fact they may have been born in MY Country. That is against their basic human rights.