But there is also a big role for men at the channel. Maria TV’s owner, Ahmed Abdallah, is a prominent Salafist preacher, well known in Egypt for his anti-
Christian rhetoric. Abdallah and his son Islam, the channel’s chief executive, were arrested last month for burning a Bible during a protest outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11.
And while the women who work for Maria TV said they want to promote their belief that all Egyptian women should be covered, the channel also serves as a vehicle for what the chief executive said was an effort to dim the influence of Christianity in the Muslim-majority region.
Those views would have met strong resistance during the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, who kept a tight lid on fundamentalist ideologies until his ouster in February 2011. But Islamists have perhaps reaped the most benefit from the country’s revolution, and with a new Islamist president, varying segments of society, including Salafists such as Abdallah, are competing to define the role of religion in Egypt.
In September, a woman wearing a cream-colored head scarf read the midday news on state television, as officials here lifted a decades-old ban on veiled female presenters on state TV.
Most Egyptian women cover their hair, and women had already been appearing with their heads covered on private Islamic channels that are part of the country’s crowded television landscape. But Maria TV’s presenters, who wear the niqab, a style of dress that leaves only their eyes exposed, have marked a first for Egyptian television.
“The goal is that all classes of society have a chance and a place to grow, to think, to become something,” said the channel’s executive manager, Aalaa Ahmed Abdallah, whose brother is the chief executive, gesturing with gloved hands as she sat in a cramped studio.
But their appearance comes as Coptic Christians, who make up roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s
population, are voicing concern about their rights in the post-Mubarak era. In recent months, churches have been burned and several anti-Christian riots have occurred.
Mona Makram-Ebeid, a Coptic Christian and a former member of parliament who is now a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, said that in the past, “you had channels that were critical of the Christian religion, but never as virulent and insulting” as today’s.
‘My freedom is Islam’
Maria TV is owned by al-
Ummah TV, a Cairo-based regional broadcaster that launched in 2006. Chief executive Islam Ahmed Abdallah said it was the first Egyptian station dedicated to boosting the role of Islam and dimming the influence of Christianity. Today, he said, his satellite programs have a broad geographic reach, as far east as Iran and as far west as Morocco.