CAIRO: Egyptian actresses who left the world of entertainment for a more religiously correct lifestyle are back on TV screens this Ramadan, in a bid to reinvent their image more in line with the growing Islamic trend.
More than 50 television serials have been produced for the month when soaps are big business, offering viewers a wide variety of romance, drama and politics.
But those in which the newly veiled actresses make an appearance are being aired only on Arab satellite TV and not on Egyptian terrestrial channels, much to the ire of the country s Islamists, and some of the actresses themselves.
I don t know whether it s a position against veiled women, although they make up 85 percent of Egyptian women, Hanan Turk recently told the daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Six months after donning the hijab (Islamic headscarf) and calling for the Iranization of Egyptian cinema, Turk appeared on the Street Children TV series which portrays the plight of children abandoned on Cairo s streets.
Ironically, her film Dunia , in which she plays a dancer tormented by the temptations of sexual desire, will also be screened at the end of the month.
Eleven years after the shock announcement that she was retiring and taking the veil, veteran actress Suheir Al-Babli has also returned to the small screen in the first time her viewers get to see her veiled.
Al-Babli is in the series The Heart of Habiba , which sees her play the role of a devout woman who devotes her life only to performing good deeds.
I used to dream of dying on stage, but now I want my life to end as I am bowing before God, said Al-Babli, who was amicably known as Souska when she used to play the roles of lost women or criminals.
Another actress, Sabrine, announced her retirement in 2000 after playing the role of the legendary music diva Um Kalthoum.
But she reappears this year with a new look as a pious woman trying to steer her husband back to the path of righteousness.
Television serials are a key social activity during Ramadan, when families are glued to their television sets after the iftar, the meal which breaks the day-long fast.
Advertisers inject large chunks of their budgets into commercials aired during Ramadan, and the prominence of actors and actresses is measured by their appearances during the month.
According to television critic Yasser Musher of the weekly Ahram Hebdo, the veiled actresses are trying to regain popularity by appearing in dramas that are seen as respectable .
Other actresses such as Suheir Ramzi, Abir Sabri and Mona Abdel Ghani have also stepped back into the business, and without showing a lock of hair.
Their choice to return to entertainment while wearing the veil reflects the growing modern religious trend of a society in which young moderate preachers such as Amr Khaled hold a great deal of sway.
About 70 percent of Egyptian women are veiled, and I m sure they d love to see me act, according to Abir Sabri, who says she is waiting for a good role in line with Islam .
Yet despite the return of veiled actresses en masse this year, none of their soaps has yet been aired on Egyptian terrestrial channels.
Ibrahim Zakariya Yunes, a legislator belonging to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, questioned Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Information Minister Anas Al-Fiqi on the issue.
Of course the correct answer would be that the [television] commission did not select these soaps because of their weak artistic levels, says TV critic Tarek Sherrawi.
But the truth is, Sherrawi believes, that the televised serials include an increasing number of veiled women reflecting the social reality of contemporary Egypt.