This video shows Gamal Abdel Nasser, President of Egypt from 1956 to 1970, making a speech about a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who demanded that he (Nasser) make it compulsory for Egyptian women to wear the hijab. The transcript of the speech is below.“The first thing he asked me was to make the wearing of hijab mandatory in Egypt,” says Nasser, “and to force every woman walking on the street to wear a hijab.” The crowd laughs and Nasser hams it up for them, looking perplexed at such an outlandish request. “Let him wear it!” shouts an audience member, and the crowd erupts in laughter and applause.
But that’s not the punchline. Nasser says he knows the Brotherhood’s leader has a daughter studying medicine, and his daughter doesn’t wear the hijab. “Why haven’t you made her wear the hijab?” he asks, before delivering a knockout blow: “If you cannot make one girl – who is your own daughter – wear the hijab,” he says, “how do you expect me to make 10 million women wear the hijab, all by myself?” The crowd roars its approval.
Nasser’s joke is instructive for the world view it implies. The middle and upper classes of 1950s Egypt considered it ridiculous that the wearing of the hijab could be enshrined in law. Most did not wear it; they considered the proper role of religion to be private, outside the realm of government and politics. Nasser himself explicitly declared the same thing.
A bit different to now when objecting to a religion or even an item of clothing is considered racist. I wonder what the reaction would be if someone made a similar speech to Nasser’s today?