An Egyptian actress is facing trial next month, charged with public obscenity, after she attended the closing ceremony of a film festival in Cairo wearing a see-through embroidered gauze dress that revealed the entirety of her legs.
Rania Youssef’s trial, which is scheduled to begin January 12, follows a complaint to the chief prosecutor by a group of lawyers against the actress.
Egypt is a mostly conservative country with a Muslim majority. The Arab country of 100 million people has retained vestiges of secularism despite decades of growing religious conservatism, but Youssef’s case serves as a reminder that Islamic fundamentalism still pervades society five years after an Islamist president was ousted by the military.
The country's legal system had come under criticism just a few months earlier by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and other watchgroups for sentences passed in September by an Egyptian court, which had handed out 47 life sentences in a case involving 739 defendants from a 2013 sit-in protest by supporters of an Islamist president ousted by the military.
UN Human Rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet said that the defendants were tried en masse and not permitted individual legal representation or to present evidence in their defense. The prosecution, she added, did not provide sufficient evidence to prove individual guilt.
Youssef, who is in her 40s, faces up to five years in prison if convicted. Taking to her Twitter account, Youssef apologized to families she might have angered by her outfit choice and said she did not expect it would cause so much.
Her complete statement, translated from Arabic into English, read: "With respect to the feelings of every Egyptian family who were angered by the dress I wore to the closing ceremony of the Cairo International Film Festival, I would like to emphasize that I had no intention of appearing in a way that would provoke feelings of irritation or anger in those who considered my dress inappropriate. It is possible that I was betrayed by my own judgement, given that it was the first time I had worn the dress. I did not anticipate that it would provoke that much anger.
The opinion of fashion designers and specialists often matters when deciding what to wear. They might have thought that we were at an international festival. I did not at all anticipate this response; and had I, I would not have worn the dress. I hereby repeat and emphasize that I uphold the principles and values with which we have been raised in Egyptian society, those that were, and will always be, respected by me. Therefore, as an artist with a kind and positive record, I apologize to my audience. I ask everyone to understand my good intentions and the fact that I never wanted to anger anyone. I hope, with God's will, that everyone continues to think kindly of me."
(With Associated Press inputs)