The Niqab (or face cover) is making the headlines again after the head of Al Azhar and Egypt's Imam, Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi  asked a young girl to uncover her face while he was inspecting an Azhar school in Cairo.
During his tour he saw a 13 year old girl fully veiled from head to toe covering her entire body but for her eyes. Moataz El Demerdash , host of a talk show called 90 minutes had a phone interview with one of the press members who witnessed Sheikh Tantawi order the girl to take off the niqab as he told her that niqab is a tradition that has nothing to do with religion. A few days later, Hani Helal Egypt's Minister of Higher Education banned female undergraduates from wearing the niqab in the country's public universities, Al-Masri Al-Yom newspaper reported.
The exchange between the Sheikh and the girl can be followed in this video [Ar]:
The young girl was shocked with the question coming from the country’s top scholar
A teacher intervened to explain.
“She takes off her niqab inside the class, but she only put it on when you and your entourage came in.”
But Sheikh Tantawi was not satisfied and insisted that the young girl takes off the face cover.
“The niqab is a tradition and has nothing to do with Islam.”
After the girl complied he insisted she should not wear it any more.
“I tell you again that the niqab has nothing to do with Islam and it is only a mere custom. I understand the religion better than you and your parents.”
In an older post, Desert Cat blogged  about a man who was caught hiding behind a niqab to go see his mistress:
Desert Cat hailed the Sheikh's decision saying :
Tarek Ez AlDen reported  that an Egyptian rights organization is suing the Minister of Higher Education:
Elder of Zion found the reactions to the niqab ban interesting:
Commenting on Tantawy’s statement, Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, member of the Islamic research Center said that the Sheikh’s decision is not a fatwa, but a move aimed at preserving security among students.
Allowing the niqab in academic institutions can cause problems, he added, since anyone can use it as a disguise to enter the university, even terrorists.
Muslim Brotherhood MP Hamdy Hassan couldn’t disagree more. He told Daily News Egypt Monday that he denounces Tantawy’s anti-niqab statement.
As for The Minister of higher Education's decree in Cairo University
neither Ain Shams University nor Helwan University issued similar decrees.
The niqab ban did not come as a total surprise
In 2007 Helwan University was the subject of a huge controversy when university security guards prohibited the entry of some female students wearing the niqab into the university dorms, even though they agreed to reveal their face to the female security guards for an identity check.
In the same year, Minister of Religious Endowments Hamdy Zaqzuq dismissed an employee from a meeting for refusing to remove her niqab.
In 2004 the American University in Cairo (AUC) caused a similar stir after a decree prohibiting the entry of students wearing the niqab into the university campus.
At the end of his post, he wrote:
Tantawi has been in hot water before, for shaking hands with Shimon Peres.
هل نسامح هذا الرجل ونعتبره كبير في السن لا يدري ما يقوله
أم نعتبره صعيدي من ماركه (قفل) مع كامل الاعتذار والاحترام للصعايده المحترمين لان هذا الرجل أساء لهم للمصريين والمسلمين جميعا
Joseph Mayton of Bikya Masr wrote a post on how Europe took advantage of the niqab ban in Egypt:
On Tuesday, only one day after news of Tantawi’s possible ban hit the media, Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his right-wing coalition have presented a proposal to ban the niqab, or burqa. The anti-immigration Northern League party is leading the charge, and Italian politicians are now quoting Tantawi in support of their goal.
The party’s proposal would amend an anti-terrorism law of 1975 that forbids anyone in the country from making their identification impossible. The current interpretation of the law allows for religious reasons as a “justified cause” to cover the face, but the possible law could end such interpretation.
A party member, Roberto Cota was quoted as saying “we are not racist and we have nothing against Muslims, but the law must be equal for everyone.”
People of Freedom Member of Parliament, Barbara Saltamartini, said that “banning the burqa cannot be considered anti-Muslim because it is not obligatory in Islam,” echoing Tantawi’s sentiments, when he demanded that the young girl in a local school remove the veil as it is “not part of Islam.”
Meanwhile, Kareem El Beheiry of EgyWorkers announced his solidarity with Egypt's niqabis free right to choose and Hassan El Helali who is against hijab (regular veil that does not cover the face) writes,  addressing the Minister of Interior:
إمنع المنقبات من القيادة أرجوك
وياريت تمنعهم من الخروج للشارع مقنعين
اللي عاوزه تكن في بيتها هي حرة
لكن الشارع ملك المجتمع الحر
القناع يلبسه الحرامي بس