File picture: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Johannesburg – Two Egyptian parliamentarians have submitted two controversial draft laws to impose a ban on women wearing the niqab (face veils) in public places.

Abu Hamed, an independent MP from Cairo, told reporters that the objective of his draft law was to impose a ban on wearing the niqab in public places, government institutions, hospitals, schools, among others, Al Ahram Online reported on Sunday.

Abu Hamed argued that the proposed laws did not violate human rights or the freedoms enshrined in Egypt's 2014 constitution.

"We have two Islamic countries, Tunisia and Algeria, that have imposed a ban on the niqab in public places, not to mention that France currently has the same ban," said Abu Hamed, adding that “the niqab is not part of Islamic law (sharia), and extremist groups use women wearing niqab to carry out terrorist attacks”.

"Several jihadist militant movements have used women wearing niqab to carry out terrorist acts, kidnap children or assassinate public figures," Abu Hamed said.

Female parliamentarian Ghada Agami, deputy chairperson of parliament's foreign affairs committee, has drafted a similar law, arguing that the face veil had become a source of sedition in Egyptian society.

"It aims to change the moderate character of Islam in Egypt and reflects the extremist ideology of Salafist (ultraconservative) movements, not to mention that it has split society into those with niqab and those without," Agami said.

However, should the laws be passed they are sure to further inflame the bitter divide between Cairo and the North African country’s Islamist movements, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, and exacerbate the counter-insurgency being fought against Al Qaeda-affiliated elements in the restive Sinai Peninsula.

On Sunday 19 Islamist militants accused of carrying out a deadly attack on Christians in Egypt were killed by police, Egypt’s interior ministry said in a statement. 

They died in a shoot-out after police pursued "fugitive terrorist elements" into the desert area west of Minya province, the ministry said.

Last Friday seven Coptic Christians were killed in an attack on two buses near a monastery. 

The attack on the Copts is the latest in a string of deadly attacks by the militants on Egypt’s Christian minority over the past few years as the insurgency worsens.

Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi from the Brotherhood was overthrown in a military coup in 2013, paving the way for incumbent President Abdel-Fatah El Sisi to take control.

Under his leadership there has been a draconian crackdown on political opponents, critics, journalists and NGO employees with international rights groups asserting that Egypt is experiencing some of the worst human rights abuses in its complicated history.

African News Agency (ANA)