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Egypt minister refuses to apologise over headscarf

Written by: Staff

CAIRO, Nov 19 (Reuters) Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni refused today to apologise for his criticism of the Muslim headscarf after Islamists called on him to resign.

Hosni, an abstract painter known for his liberal views, said he was merely expressing his personal opinion and was not responsible if other people misunderstood him.

''What should I apologise for? I do not apologise for something which I have not committed,'' he told the Arabic-language satellite news channel Al Jazeera.

''Morals and conscience ... are the strongest higab (headscarf). That's my personal opinion and I have not called on anyone to take off the higab,'' he added.

Mr Hosni, a ruling party member who has run the culture ministry for 19 years, told the independent newspaper Al Masry Al Yom last week that Egypt would not progress as long as its people depended on religious edicts ''worth 5 cents''.

''Women with their beautiful hair are like flowers that should not be covered and blocked from people,'' he added.

In an interview on the Egyptian television programme 90 Minutes yesterday night, Mr Hosni said Al Masry Al Yom had quoted him correctly but his remarks were not meant for publication.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's biggest opposition group, said on Friday it had demanded his resignation.

Mr Hosni, who often appears at cultural events alongside First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, has weathered several storms in recent years, including a campaign by artists to force him out of office after a fire killed 46 people in a cultural centre in southern Egypt in September 2005.

Mr Hosni eventually offered to resign but Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif asked him to stay on.

Mr Hosni's remarks about the Muslim headscarf, which is worn by a majority of Egyptian Muslim women, rekindled the long debate on the subject in the Egyptian media.

Several callers to the 90 Minutes programme argued that wearing a headscarf was not a religious obligation. Others, including Muslim clerics, said that it was required.


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