Egypt Pulse

Is Egypt's parliament going after beauty queens?

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Article Summary
Egyptian lawmakers have called for the banning of the Miss Egypt Pageant until a law can be issued to provide government oversight for beauty contests.

CAIRO — Miss Egypt 2017 was crowned Oct. 2 amid wide controversy over the legality of the contest being held without government supervision and accusations of indecency that spread in the media.

Solaf Darwish, a member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee, said that leaked videos and pictures of the beauty contestants taken by cameras installed in the rooms showed the immoral behavior of contestants, which goes against the customs of Egyptian society. Darwish also revealed that one of the contestants, whom she did not name, withdrew from the pageant after she was allegedly subject to abuses.

This comes after one Miss Egypt contestant withdrew and showered the pageant’s organizers with all sorts of accusations. Consequently, two members of the judging panel backed out.

The pageant risks being banned after Darwish, who belongs to the Support Egypt coalition, the largest in parliament, issued an urgent parliamentary statement calling for the banning of the Miss Egypt Pageant, claiming it threatens Egyptian national security. Darwish said the ban would remain in place until the parliament completes the drafting of a law regulating such contests in Egypt under government supervision.

Meanwhile, the pageant is entirely rejected by members of Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars Committee who believe Sharia prohibits such contests.

Numerous beauty pageants are organized in Egypt in addition to the Miss Egypt Pageant, whose winner this year was Farah Shaaban. There is the Miss Egypt for Tourism and Environment organized in Sharm el-Sheikh and won by Riwan Alaa in 2016, in addition to the Hijab Queen contest and Queen of Elegance competition.

In an interview with Al-Monitor, Darwish said she will use all parliamentary means to stop such contests, and in particular the Miss Egypt Pageant, until the regulations governing them are under government supervision, especially since Miss Egypt represents the country at a global event.

“Miss Egypt Pageant 2017 has stirred public discontent. There were videos of the contestants in their bedrooms and in fitting rooms, which does not blend with the values ​​and traditions of Egyptian society,” she said. “I do not want to cancel beauty pageants. I only want to temporarily suspend them until the government and the Egyptian parliament agree on mechanisms to regulate them in line with the norms prevailing in Egyptian society and assign a specific ministry to supervise them.”

Darwish stressed the importance of a background check for organizers to see whether or not their expertise qualifies them to oversee such contests.

The Miss Egypt Pageant 2017 was being criticized up until the final moments of the crowning ceremony. Syrian singer Sarah Nakhleh, who was a member of the judging panel, withdrew and posted on her Facebook page Sept. 26, “I am not responsible for choosing any girl because of the lack of credibility, commitment and respect for what has been agreed upon.” Mustafa Galal, who holds the title of Man of the World 2017, also excused himself as a judge.

The Egyptian media focused on contestant Ayah Ashraf, who withdrew from Miss Egypt 2017 alleging it is based only on physical beauty, rather than inner beauty. As a response, the organizer of the pageant, Amal Rizk, published two screenshots of a conversation between her and Ashraf. The first shows Rizk asking Ashraf to lose 7 kilograms (15 pounds) and the second shows her dismissing Ashraf from the contest, proving that Ashraf was actually let go and did not withdraw.

Although organizers of beauty pageants in Egypt refused to call the integrity of their choices into question, they welcomed the idea of government supervision. Rizk told Youm7 Sept. 24, “I am prepared to submit to any law to supervise the competition, as long as it complies with the same international standards of beauty pageants.”

In this context, Mahmoud Najah, who founded the Queen of Elegance competition, told Al-Monitor, “The government supervision would support the contest and help overcome several obstacles.”

Najah said contestants are not always given the governmental permits required for certain pageant activities. “This is why we formed working groups for every three girls who are competing to shoot a video promoting tourist attractions in Egypt, which is one of the activities that require permits. However, neither the Ministry of Tourism nor the Ministry of Social Solidarity agreed to grant us permits,” he said.

Najah added, “Having a single authority in charge of organizing beauty pageants will serve our interests.”

Egyptian parliamentarian Mohamed Abu Hamed told Al-Monitor that the Egyptian parliamentary Committee of Social Solidarity is preparing a bill on the organization of beauty pageants, noting that he is working on drafting legal provisions allowing the government to supervise the pageants in order to guarantee fair competition or protect Egypt’s reputation. He noted that beauty pageants should fall under the supervision of either the Ministry of Tourism or the Ministry of Social Solidarity.

Beauty pageants in Egypt have been subject to religious objections and sometimes were even prohibited. Mahmoud Mehanna, a member of Al-Azhar's Senior Scholars Committee, told Tahrir News Sept. 9 that such contests are prohibited under Sharia, because judges need to examine the body and physical appearance of each contestant, which clearly violates Sharia provisions, especially since contestants often choose sexy clothing to get ahead.

Abu Hamed explained that his bill does not aim at interfering with the policy of beauty pageants and imposing restrictions on them, especially with regard to what the girls wear during the contest. “They are free to wear whatever they want because this is a global contest and all countries need to abide by the same standards,” he said.

Lashing out at beauty pageant organizers is nothing new in Egypt; the political elite under former President Hosni Mubarak criticized the organizers of such contests saying they completely disregard the Egyptian society’s problems and concerns.

Found in: sharia, pageant, islam, egyptian women, egyptian society, egyptian parliament, conservatives, al-azhar

Walaa Hussein is the editor-in-chief of the parliamentary news division at Rose al-Yusuf. An expert in African affairs, Hussein has collaborated with the Nile Channel, writing and preparing newscasts. On Twitter: @walaahuseen

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