Over half a century ago in 1958, only six years after the Egyptian revolution of 1952, then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser made a joke about radical Islamic ideology that many Middle Easterners of the contemporary age would be wise to contemplate.
Speaking at a televised event, the president regaled his audience with a story about how the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood had tried to convince him to make hijabs compulsory for women in Egypt.
“I met the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and he sat with me and made his requests,” he recalled. “What did he request? The first thing he asked was to make wearing the hijab mandatory in Egypt, and demand that every woman walking in the street wear the scarf. Every woman walking!”
In response, the audience burst into laughter before one member shouted out, “Let him wear it!” Nasser smiled and chuckled to himself.
“(I told him) in my opinion, every person in their own house decides for themselves their rules,” he continued. “And he replied, ‘No. As the leader, you are responsible.'”
“I told him, ‘Sir, I know you have a daughter in college — and she doesn’t wear a headscarf or anything! Why don’t you make her wear the headscarf? So you can’t make one girl, your own daughter, wear it, and yet you want me to go and make 10 million women wear it?'”
The applause that followed was deafening. Listen:
While the audience seemed pleased by Nasser, it remains unclear if a contemporary audience of Egyptians would be as receptive to the same joke. According to the Pew Research Center, Muslims make up about 95 percent of Egypt’s population. And as noted by The New York Times in a report from 2008, Islam had “become the cornerstone of identity” for many young Egyptians, “replacing other, failed ideologies: Arabism, socialism, nationalism.”
Of course, Nasser himself was a a socialist. But while socialism is itself a flawed ideology, at least socialists have known better than to try to force women to wear hijabs.
More to the point, can anyone imagine an Arab leader of any political persuasion making mockery of Islamic fundamentalism on television today?
He’d be signing his own death sentence.
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