Egyptian government has new crackdown target: beauty contests

Egyptian officials are cracking down – on beauty pageants.

Beauty competitions long have been controversial in Egypt, with opposition coming from a wide range of sources, including religious organizations and government officials. Recently, the home of the founder of a beauty contest was set on fire shortly before the event was scheduled to take place.

Now, the subject has moved front and center again, with a member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee pushing a ban on the Miss Egypt Pageant, which the official condemned as a national security threat.

Solaf Darwish, the parliament member, and several other government officials want more control over pageants if they are to continue, according to published reports.

“Miss Egypt Pageant 2017 has stirred public discontent,” said Darwish to Al-Monitor. “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.”

Religious organizations also are weighing in, hoping to up the ante against beauty contests.

Al-Azhar’s Senior Scholars Committee, a group whose website says its mission includes carrying “the burden and the responsibility of ‎protecting and preserving the purity, moderation, and modesty of Islam over the ‎centuries,” has expressed total opposition to the basic concept of beauty competitions, saying they violate Sharia laws.

Al-Azhar officials say that the very requirement that beauty contest judges must visually inspect a woman’s body and appearance are in contradiction of Sharia laws.

Darwish has argued that, unlike some critics of the contests, she is not seeking an all-out ban on them, but wants them to be answerable to the government to ensure that they comply with cultural and moral values.

“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 is quoted as telling Al-Monitor.

Efforts to get a comment from the Egyptian Embassy in Washington D.C. were unsuccessful.

Beauty pageant organizers and winners defend the events, saying they are not just about physical appeal.

Fatima Baker, the beauty pageant organizer whose home was set ablaze, told the Al Arabiya Network that her event was the victim of “a misunderstanding of the contest and its purpose.”

“The contest, which is the first of its kind in Egypt, isn’t just about physical beauty, but also about education, fitness, style, aspirations, knowledge of the Quran and social activism,” she said.

Baker noted that the contest had generated a lot of enthusiasm from Egyptians.

“Suffice it to say that within days we received 250 applications and had to close the registration,” she said. “The winner won’t be selected based on her beauty. The contest is not at all about that. I’m a resident of the Delta region and I’m against showcasing local girls in this way.”