Niqab Ban in University Exams an Excessive Measure, Penalizes Students for their Beliefs

Press Release

5 January 2010

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today regretted the ruling on 3 January by an administrative court to uphold a new decision banning students who wear the niqab, or full face veil, from sitting for exams in public universities. The EIPR said the ban's declared objective of preventing cheating during exams could be achieved through less drastic measures. Female students wearing the niqab told the court they were prepared to uncover their faces and be subjected to body searches at the beginning of each exam.

“State universities could have employed a wide variety of precautionary measures to ensure order during exams, as they had done in previous years,” said EIPR Executive Director Hossam Bahgat. “Choosing the most excessive measure is a continuation of a policy which clearly penalizes students who wear the niqab for their beliefs.”

The ruling of the Court of Administrative Justice's Sixth Circuit, headed by Judge Anwar Ibrahim Khalil, rejected more than 50 lawsuits that were filed by students from several universities in an attempt to overturn the new decision and to allow them to wear the face veil during mid-year exams which begin this month.

While the Court's written reasoning has yet to be made public, media reports quoting Judge Khalil stated that the ruling was based on the fact that the ban was temporary and limited to the times and places of examinations. Hence, the Court reportedly found, the ban did not contradict the ruling in 2007 by the Supreme Administrative Court’s Circuit for the Unification of Principles. The 2007 ruling prohibited a complete ban on the niqab and deemed such a prohibition a breach of the constitutional protection for personal and religious freedoms.

The EIPR stressed, however, that any temporary interference with the right to choose one's attire must meet the criteria established by international human rights law and jurisprudence, including by ensuring that the interference is necessary to achieve a legitimate goal and proportionate to the measures needed to achieve this goal, and that the interference is not discriminatory or imposed for discriminatory reasons.

In December 2009, the same circuit issued several rulings upholding the right of students wearing the face veil to reside in the girls' dormitories of public universities and suspending the decision by the President of Ain Sham University to expel these students from the university's hostel, stating that the expulsion was a breach of personal liberty and violated the right to education, including the right to equal access to university services and buildings.

Later this month, the same circuit is expected to rule on several other lawsuits pertaining to the right of sitting for exams without removing the niqab. Moreover, the Court's Circuit for Beni Sueif and Fayoum is expected in January to hold hearings on a similar case filed by the EIPR to permit two students wearing the face veil at Fayyoum University to sit for their mid-year exams.