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Egypt's ministry of education denies hijab ban on schoolgirls

The Minister of Education's comments on preventing schoolgirls wearing the hijab were misinterpreted as an official ban
Egyptian girls sit in Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo during the weekly Friday prayer, on 28 December 2012 (AFP)

Egypt’s Minister of Education Moheb al-Refaei caused a mixture of controversy and confusion when in a television interview he declared that girls are not allowed to wear the hijab (head-scarf) at school.

In the interview, Refaei said that according to Islam, girls are not required to wear the hijab until they reach puberty.

Yet he did not state when this ban would take effect and whether all school grade levels will be forced to adhere to it.

However, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education told several Egyptian outlets on Sunday night that no such ban exists, and that Refaei was merely expressing his opinion. The spokesperson also made it clear that girls should have the free choice of wearing the hijab, if they wanted to.

Egypt once ruled against allowing girls under the age of 12 from wearing the hijab in schools back in 1994. The law was revoked two years later after it triggered fierce debate, in a move that the Supreme Court labelled as unconstitutional.

Refaei’s comments came through the context of an investigation ordered into several teachers and the principal of a primary school in the Sharqiya governate. The principal in question was found to be wearing a traditional gown called the jalabiya, a garment that is not considered to be suitable for professional workplaces.