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Conflicting tan lines: The burkini raises debate in Egypt

Conflicting tan lines: The burkini raises debate in Egypt
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CAIRO - The woman accosted Yasmeen Samir as she swam with her family at a pool in a resort on the North Coast, a stretch of Mediterranean beaches reserved for Egypt’s upper echelons. The reason: Samir was wearing a burkini, a swimsuit worn by conservative Muslims to cover the entire body.

Soon other women joined in berating Samir and demanding she leave. It’s an “eyesore,” one woman barked.

It was supposed to be a dip in a pool to cool off from Egypt’s summer heat. But the incident last month turned into a national debate over what women can wear — and where — and highlighted the complicated and often contradictory pressures of class, society and religion in the conservative, Muslim-majority country.

The majority of women in Egypt wear a head covering and religious authorities urge women to do so. But women who wear headscarves or the burkini face discrimination and scorn among some upper-class circles where such dress is seen as backwards and low-class.

Most bars and clubs don’t allow entrance to women in headscarves, called “hijab,” treating their presence and the serving of alcohol as mutually exclusive. In many of the private beach communities that have spread over Egypt’s coasts, burkinis are viewed with derision. Many private pools have a strict policy barring swimming in clothes, which is then extended to full-body swimsuits even if made from Lycra.

The flip side of the divide is also fraught. At Egypt’s few public beaches, which are frequented by lower classes, most women swim in headscarves and full-length robes, and a woman wearing a one-piece bathing suit or a bikini would face stares and harassment. A woman appearing on social media in a bathing suit can face a storm of shaming insults.

Many in the crowd that accosted Samir insisted the material of her swimsuit was unsanitary. But she says it was obvious they were merely displeased with her appearance.
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