Egypt’s state universities impose new student dress code

Activists in Egypt have criticised a new dress code at a number of state universities before the new academic year.

Signs with the dress code appeared outside universities and were swiftly photographed by students and posted on social media. The rules include bans on clothes that are “too tight” and ripped, as well as distressed and see-through garments of any kind.

Shorts, flip-flops and leggings have also been banned.

The new regulations also outlawed galabeyas, a loose-fitting, one-piece garment traditionally worn by farmers in Egypt’s agricultural provinces.

The new academic year begins on October 2 and heralds other restrictions, including stricter controls on students bringing in weapons of any kind on to the campus. Flares and fireworks have also been banned.

Mahraganat music is also barred inside lecture halls, as are smoking, eating and drinking. The genre has been heavily criticised by the country’s musicians’ syndicate in the past for including inappropriate lyrics and glorifying a way of life that they say goes against the nation’s customs.

The dress code was criticised by some rights activists, including president of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, Nehad Aboul Komsan.

In an Instagram post, she said that although she agreed with the concept of educating Egypt’s young people about better conduct, she was concerned that the new dress code was aimed at covering up female students. Meanwhile, she claims the sometimes indecent behaviour of male students has been left unaddressed.

She is also concerned about what she considers to be the new rules’ vague wording.

“The new rules outlaw clothes that are too short or too tight, but who decides that? These matters cannot be left up to the ethical sensibilities of individual administrators at universities,” Ms Aboul Komsan wrote.

“I sincerely hope that more work will be done to educate young men on what is deemed harassment on campus as well.”

The higher education ministry responded on Saturday to the wave of criticism on social media regarding the new rules. It said it had the utmost trust in the ethics of Egypt’s students and their ability to choose clothes and behaviours that are appropriate for university campuses.

Although it did not deny the online criticism about the new regulations, the ministry warned students to use social media “rationally” and not to listen to “false or exaggerated news”.

Beni-Suef University president Dr Mansour Hassan said on Sunday night that because the government universities often comprised students from very different backgrounds, there had to be a unified dress code. He said this would ensure that differing ethical opinions did not result in conflicts on campus.

“I don’t think these rules are an encroachment on students’ personal freedoms,” he told talk show host Lamees El Hadidy. “It’s a matter of respecting our university campus, which comprises 100,000 pupils from varying socio-economic backgrounds. If the student doesn’t understand the rules of common decorum, we have no problem teaching them that in a very slow and lenient way.”

Mahmoud Hamed, dean of the faculty of art education at Helwan University, Greater Cairo, said on Monday that “personal freedoms end when they start to impinge on the freedoms of the larger community”.