Niqab On Air: A New Egyptian TV Station Of Only Fully-Veiled Women

Salafi sheik Abou Islam Abdallah had a dream: a television channel run only by women wearing the full-face veil. He would have to wait years, and the fall of the Mubarak regime, to see the all-niqab network launch this week for the first time.

A woman wearing the full-body veil on Saudi Arabia TV1 (Emitron_68)
A woman wearing the full-body veil on Saudi Arabia TV1 (Emitron_68)
Claire Talon

CAIRO - Egyptian Salafi sheikh Abou Islam Abdallah woke up one morning in 2005 with a brilliant idea. It was a dream he'd obsess over for seven years: a television channel run only by women wearing the full-face veil. No hijabs, headscarves or other partial forms of covering: on Ummah TV, a fig leaf wouldn't be enough. Niqabs, gloves, socks. Period.

He was tired of the tacky Egyptian television anchors with their sparkly, frilly blouses, blow-dried hair and shimmering lip-gloss. He wanted a simpler, more sober style, for the anchors on Ummah TV: there is black, black and more black. In short, a paradise like no other.

Of the dozens of Islamic TV channels already frantically competing to attract religious believers put off by cable broadcasters' wiggling hips, not one had previously dared to think of an idea as thorough and thought-out as this one. Abou Islam Abdallah has obviously had a divine illumination.

For years, the only problem was that the niqab was banned from Egyptian TV screens by the Rais himself: Hosni Mubarak. Abou Islam had to put his dreams of glory on the backburner; and while he waited, he launched a more modest Islamic television station, Ummah TV, presented only by men with thick beards.

One morning in January 2011, however, came the revolution: a godsend. Suddenly Salafis, previously bullied by the iron fist of the previous regime, could now express their beliefs and their way of dressing; they could even think about creating their own political parties to espouse the practice of Sharia law and create an Islamist state.

Abou Islam knew that his time had come, and in the space of a few months, he had recruited 30 presenters, who would only show their eyes. The entire team would be made up exclusively of women: from technicians to presenters, journalists to directors.

The result, slated to be broadcast for the first time on July 20, the first day of Ramadan, has surpassed expectations: all male presence will be eliminated. If a woman appears on screen not entirely covered by the veil, her face will be censored and the main aim of the programmers will be to promote the niqab and to respond to the issue of female adultery.

"It's a project that combats discrimination," affirms the director, Sheyka Safaa Rifa'i. "Because women who wear the full face veil are being excluded from the media."

Better suited for radio?

In the Egyptian media, which is currently preparing its Ramadan broadcasting schedule - mainly filled with cheesy soap operas - consternation and disbelief prevail, especially as the news of the project came in the wake of the arrest of the owner of an oriental dance television channel.

"I think the concept is more appropriate for radio," says Mona Salman, an Egyptian anchor for Al Jazeera. But across the industry, no one can ignore that the emergence of a "100% niqab" TV station demonstrates that the Salafis are succeeding in their demands at both the political and judicial level.

A few months ago, they were seen as gatecrashers, unafraid of ridicule but not organized enough to transform their ideas into policies. But since their unexpected breakthrough in the legislative elections in January, garnering a quarter of the seats of Parliament, their demands are becoming more and more pressing.

Within the constituent assembly, they are explicitly calling for the modification of Article 2 of the 1971 Constitution, which outlines that "the principles of Sharia are the main sources of legislation." The replacement of "the principles of Sharia" with "Sharia" implies a possible introduction of Islamic punishments: an unacceptable demand for the other political parties.

When they are not campaigning in favor of the right to have a full beard in the police or on Egyptair, or for the reform of divorce and family law, some Salafis are devoting themselves to activities that are provoking the worst fears.

Outside of the city, there has been an emergence of "moral police" brigades, who are seeking to impose segregation of sexes on buses, in hairdressers and universities. On the beaches of the Mediterranean, pamphlets have been handed out against music.

On June 25, a 20-year-old man was stabbed to death by extremists while he was walking with his girlfriend in a Suez park. People also point to the death of a musician attacked while leaving a wedding by men who presented themselves as Salafis.

Are the Salafis, who are setting their sights on the future Ministry of Higher Education, moving towards open conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, who are in turn worried about antagonizing liberals? The more radical supporters could in any case cause an explosion of the Salafi movement, between political leaders, ready to make concessions on ideology in order to assure a part of power, and more hardline militants.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Emitron_68

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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