Call for campus dress code triggers mixed response

A call by Egyptian parliamentarians to enforce a dress code on university campuses has received mixed responses in the Middle Eastern country.

The debate started after MP Amna Nuseir recently suggested that university students wearing “improper” outfits should be denied access to the campus.

Nuseir, a professor of Islamic creed at the state-run Al-Azhar University, singled out ragged trousers, currently fashionable attire among young Egyptians, for criticism.

“These indecent trousers should be banned because they do not suit Egyptian traditions and culture,” Nuseir told a local television station.

"These clothes are ugly and do not reflect respect for the human body."

She added that Cairo University, Egypt’s biggest higher education institution, should take the lead in enforcing the proposed ban.

“Cairo University has to ban students, especially female students, from showing up on the campus wearing ragged trousers, in the same way it banned the niqab,” Nuseir said.

In September 2015, Cairo University banned women lecturers from wearing the full-face veil or the niqab while inside classrooms. The ban, later upheld by the court, was aimed at improving teacher communication with students.

Niqab ban

That ban was the first of its kind in Egypt’s 42 public and private universities.

Cairo University’s President, Gaber Nassar, objected to Nuseir’s proposed ban and disputed the accuracy of the MP’s comments over the banning of the niqab.

“Cairo University did not ban the niqab altogether; it only banned female lecturers from teaching while wearing the niqab,” Nassar, a law professor, said. “Any lecturer can wear the niqab outside the lecture hall. Moreover, students are not banned from wearing the niqab. I do not have the right to tell students what they should wear.”

Applying mandatory dress rules on campuses would require a law endorsed by parliament, said Nassar.

In response, member of parliament Abdul Karim Zakaria said he would present to the legislature a draft bill on a university dress code.

“Schools, police and military academies have their own uniforms that reflect commitment and controlled [dressing] tastes among their members,” Zakaria, a member of the parliament’s religious committee, said in a statement. "The issue is not a matter of personal freedom. But it is an issue that is related to public taste and respect for education places."

It is not clear yet when the bill will be debated in parliament.

Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel Ghaffar said his ministry would “study the matter” if it got an official request from parliament.

“It is necessary to respect the sanctity of the university,” the recently appointed minister told the media.

Mixed responses

Suggestions for putting in place a university dress code have drawn mixed responses from students.

“We are not pupils at school to be told what we should wear,” said Tamer Mustafa, a commerce student at the state-run Ain Shams University. “Instead of focusing on students’ clothes, parliamentarians should pay attention to the importance of [improving] the quality of education that has deteriorated in recent years.”

Eman Mahmoud, a law student at the same university, expressed her support for clear dress rules on campus.

“The university has its traditions that should be respected," she said. "Students should not be allowed to enter the university if they wear bizarre or revealing clothes in the name of fashion. University classes are meant for learning, not for parading the latest fashion trends.”