THIS IS PRETTY SICK – AT 10:17 A.M. ET: Oh wait, it's just another expression of cultural values. Who are we to judge? From CNN:
(CNN) -- After graduating from the mass communication department of Cairo University, Heba Seraq-Eddin couldn't find a job. Potential employers turned her down, she says, because of her veil. Heba wears the niqab, the black fabric that covers her whole face, except for the eyes.
"I used to tell them I won't appear on camera, my niqab won't be visible," recalls Serag-Eddin, trained as a director and camera operator. But there were no job offers and she felt that the networks rejected the very concept of the niqab in the workplace.
Gee, I wonder why. Maybe some people just want to live in the 21st century, not the 10th.
Then she came across an ad for a new TV channel called Maria, run exclusively by niqab-clad women. She was hired right away.
Maria, the first channel of its kind anywhere, kicked off with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on July 20. Until it gets more funding and staff, it's a daily four-hour broadcast on its mother channel, Al-Omma, an independent channel seen in the Middle East.
I'm sure their schedule is exciting, including the hit series, "We must smash the American imperialists and their Zionist stooges." Get that theme music.
"We are trying to create a better society after the earthquake of freedom that was January 25," Alaa Abdallah explains. She says Egypt's intellectuals should support her right to speak up and her right to give a marginalized segment of society a voice.
One of those intellectuals is not convinced. The network taps into the rhetoric of women's empowerment, says Adel Iskandar, media scholar at Georgetown University, but there is a "very strong case to be made that it's a gimmick."
Others are worried that the rise of political Islam in Egypt will radicalize the society. They argue that a TV network that features only women with covered faces is a "U-turn" on the path of the so-called Arab uprising.
I would think so.
Alaa Abdallah says she avidly supports freedom of expression, but wouldn't grant her critics the same leeway she demands. "I stand by freedom of expression as long as it isn't hostile to Islam," she says, arguing that "secular and liberal" channels are "destructive" in the way they are promoting ideas that would reshape society.
Ah, the little asterisks start to appear.
Al-Omma -- which means the nation -- is full of "anti-Christianization" rhetoric. There is less of that on Maria, named for the woman thought to have been the prophet Mohammed's Coptic wife.
Maria caters to a niche market untapped even by ultraconservative channels, according to Iskandar. But normalizing the appearance of women covered from head to toe in black could be a double-edged sword. "It takes away from their mystique, their exoticism," he argues.
COMMENT: I'd love to know what happens to these niqab-clad women when they disagree with the men who are running things. I don't think there's any arbitration available through the Producer's Guild.
August 1, 2012