As we wait for the Salafi leader Kamal Habib at the Cairo Journalists’ Union, a sudden panic comes over me. I’ve just noticed that my translator, Shahira Amin, an Egyptian journalist, is wearing a sleeveless top and that her hair is uncovered. In my experience, Salafis, adherents of a very strict school of Islam, take a dim view of such displays of femininity. I recall a time in Baghdad when a Salafi preacher cursed me for bringing a female photographer to our interview, and an occasion in the Jordanian city of Salt when another Salafi leaped from his chair and thwacked his teenage daughter on the arm when she accidentally entered the room without covering her face from my infidel eyes.
I’ve heard reports that Habib is not the hard-liner he was in the 1970s, when he co-founded the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad, or the 1980s, when he was jailed in connection with the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. He gave up politics after a decade in prison, but in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, he has reinvented himself as a leader of a more moderate party. He’s held press conferences at the union, so presumably he’s had to make his peace with women who don’t cover their hair.(See pictures of a jihadist’s journey.)
But I fear he may draw the line at a sleeveless top.
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