What Hind Did


Lectures from Islamists about supposed Western degeneracy are often not about Western practices, but rather about a neo-Victorian obsession with maintaining appearances. That's why a current paternity scandal involving a publicly pious actor is rocking Egypt. Ahmed el-Fishawy has been charged with fathering a child out of wedlock, which he denies. But the scandal is not over whether he may be found to be a pious hypocrite. The scandal is that the woman involved is seeking redress. Her reward thus far has been vilification.

Neil MacFarquhar's fine NYT account begins this way: "The standard three-step program for any unmarried upper-class Egyptian girl who becomes pregnant is an abortion, an operation to refurbish her virginity with a new hymen and then marriage to the first unwitting suitor the family can snare."

The woman involved is a 27-year-old movie costume designer named Hind el-Hinnawy, who decided to skip the traditional three-step program and have her baby. El-Fishawy, the alleged father, is well known "as the host of a now canceled television talk show dispensing advice to devout Muslim youth," according to MacFarquhar. El-Hinnawy "contends that the two had what is known as an urfi marriage, a practice in Sunni Islam that allows couples to marry in private with a contract they draft." She wants a DNA test, which, if administered, would be a novelty for Egypt.

"The importance of this case is that it is out in the open," says one of el-Hinnawy's supporters. "The whole society has to question whether it is only her, or whether the society is changing. Young people want to make love without getting married."

Egypt's society is certainly facing change. Issues involving sex, courtship, and marriage are debated frankly all day long on Arab TV, usually in talk-show formats hosted by women (both secular and veiled). By the way, I've seen one of MacFarquhar's hymen-restoration clinics portrayed, suprisingly, in a recent Egyptian movie, where it was represented as an extremely busy place. The same film even presented a young, unmarried couple together in bed and about to have sex, a scene that the film offered sympathetically. As it happens, there was another character at the window, secretly videotaping them so as to blackmail the woman into having sex with him, too. Not your traditional Egyptian movie.