Expulsion of Veiled Students from University Hostel Arbitrary and Discriminatory

Press Release

11 October 2006

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today condemned the decision by Helwan University's President to expel female students who choose for religious reasons to wear the niqab, or face veil, from the university's hostel. The EIPR also regretted the statement by the Minister of Higher Education in support of the decision, which violates the constitutional protections of equality, religious freedom and personal liberty.

"The only thing worse than the arbitrary interference with women's right to choose their dress code is to deprive them of government-subsidized accommodation and meals solely on the basis of a decision they made in accordance with their religious beliefs."

The EIPR rejected the use of security concerns to justify the discriminatory practice, especially since the students pledged to remove the veil for identity checks to female guards at the hostel's entrance. Other universities still allow veiled students to live in university hostels, as did Helwan University itself before the sudden emergence of "security concerns" this year.

Banning the wearing of the niqab is an illegitimate restriction of the right to manifest one's religion or belief, enshrined in Article 18 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Egypt in 1982. The United Nations committee that monitors the implementation of the Covenant ruled on 18 January 2005 that banning the niqab at universities in Uzbekistan violates the Covenant. The ruling said that "to prevent a person from wearing religious clothing in public or private may constitute a violation of article 18, paragraph 2, which prohibits any coercion that would impair the individual's freedom to have or adopt a religion."    

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court (SAD) had annulled in 1989 a decision by Ain Shams University's President to ban the niqab on campus. However, another panel of the same Court ruled in 1999 in support of a niqab ban imposed by Mansura University. The SAD's Chamber for Unification of Principles is currently considering the question in an attempt to establish a legal precedent on niqab restrictions. In February 2005, the EIPR submitted to the SAD a brief on the Egyptian government's legal obligations under international law to protect women's freedom to wear the niqab.