EGYPT: Veil ban in universities masks religious rift

When Egypt's government banned Islamic veils and all-encompassing robes in the dorms of public universities, it cited reports of men wearing the garb to sneak into women's quarters, writes Sarah El Deeb for Associated Press. But there was a deeper reason behind the move: an intensifying struggle between the moderate Islam championed by the state and a populace that is turning to a stricter version of the faith, whose most visible hallmark is the niqab -- the dress that covers the entire female form.

The debate has grown more heated since Mohammad Tantawi, the top cleric at prestigious Al-Azhar University, banned the niqab in classrooms and dorms on the grounds that it "has nothing to do with Islam", and that it was unnecessary since the college is gender-segregated.

In European countries, particularly France, the debate over women's dress has turned on questions of how to integrate immigrants and balance a minority's rights with secular opinion that the garb is an affront to women. But in Egypt, the dynamic is different. Here, public conservatism is at odds with a government that is viewed not only as secular but also as autocratic, corrupt and uncaring. The debate underscores the gulf between the more secular elite that wields economic and political power, and the largely impoverished and disenfranchised masses who increasingly find solace in religion.
Full report on the Associated Press site