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Libya: Hijab Fiasco at Power Handover Ceremony

A problem marred Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC) power handover to the newly elected 200-member General National Congress in a recent ceremony: The master of ceremony was the unveiled female presenter Sarah Elmesallati, who was ordered to leave the stage after an Islamist MP walked out of the ceremony in objection to her presenting the historic ceremony. Netizens have gone to Facebook to record their objection or support.

According to reports, Islamist MP Salah Baadi of Mistrata objected to Elmesallati presenting the event and yelled at her to cover up. He then walked out of the ceremony in protest. Then, an assistant to NTC Chairman Mustafa Abduljalil asked her to stop presenting. When she refused, Abduljalil himself signaled her to stop, which she did. She was replaced with a male presenter.

Screen shot of the We are all Sarah Elmesallati Facebook page

Screen shot of the We are all Sarah Elmesallati Facebook page

In response, a Facebook page entitled We are all Sarah Elmesallati [ar] was formed. The page is being used to debate the status of women in post-Gaddafi Libya as well as hurl insults at and support for the young female presenter.

Also, on Facebook, this image is making the rounds:

An image showing Abduljalil shaking hands with an unveiled Hilary Clinton

An image showing Abduljalil shaking hands with an unveiled Hilary Clinton

It shows a photograph of Elmesallati and Abduljalil shaking hands with United States Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. It reads [ar]:

Presenter Sarah Elmesallati is thrown out of the ceremony because she is a woman who does not wear the hijab and because she is Libyan. Abduljalil said: “We are a Muslim conservative society and we are people who celebrate our religious teachings and have customs and traditions. Hilary Clinton is a woman who doesn't wear the hijab and she is also what you call an infidel. When you shook her hand, did you say that it is forbidden for a man to shake the hands of a woman? Is this a religious teaching? Or is it an American tradition?

The image has been shared more than 250 times, and has attracted around 730 comments on the We are all Sarah Elmesallati page on Facebook so far.

On the Libya Blog, Ahmed Al Bukhari, writes [ar]:

ورغم صدمتي من هذا الموقف الذي لم أتخيل حدوثه، ورغم ردة الفعل الحادة التي قام بها النشطاء ، ومنها إنشاء هذه الصفحة لدعم سارة ( كلنا سارة المسلاتي ) إلا أنني لا أحمل لا مصطفى عبد الجليل ولا أعضاء المؤتمر الخطأ ، بل لابدّ أن نتعرف أن المشكلة تكمن في المجتمع ككل ، وأنه لو كان المجتمع لا يسمح بهذا النوع من الإضطهاد ، لما تجرأ أحد على فعل هذه الفعلة

Although I am shocked with the incident because I never expected such a thing would happen, and despite the strong reaction of activists, among them setting up the Facebook page We are All Sarah Elmasallati, I don't hold Mustafa Abduljalil and the NTC the responsibility for what happened. We need to admit that the problem is with society as a whole, and that if this society did not allow for such discrimination, no one would dare commit such actions.

Meanwhile, Libya Now, also on Facebook, writes an open letter to Elmesallati, after she defended herself in an interview. In one part it says [ar]:

انا شخصيا لم اتكلم كثيرا في موضوع سارة المسلاتي من قبل وكنت أقول “كان يجب ان يتم نصحها بطريقة اخرى”, لكن بعد ان شاهدت هذا الفيديو تغيرت وجهت نظري تماما.في هذا الفيديو تقول المتملقة سارة المسلاتي أنها تعرف ان الحجاب شيئ فرضه الله, وقالت ايضا”هدا بيني وبين ربي” وقالت ايضا انه الله أمر العبد بغض بصره ولم يأمره بأن ينصح المرأة ويقوللها البسي حجاب..

I have personally not spoken a lot about Sarah Elmesallati's case before and used to say “She had to be advised in another way.” However, after watching her interview in this video, I have completely changed my mind.In this video, the conceited Sarah Elmesallati says that she knows that the hijab is ordained by Allah and she also said “This is something between me and God.” She also said Allah had ordered the believer to lower his gaze but had not ordered him to advise women and ask them to wear the hijab.

The writer continues [ar]:

وقالت ايضا اننا نحن دولة دينية متوسطة, وانا شخصيا وضعت خطين تحن كلمة متوسطه, لا يا سارة نحن دولة مسلمة وبنسبة 100٪ وتعبيراتك التي قلتيها على هذه القناة يجب ان تراجعيها وتعيها جيدا قبل ان تقوليها.

She also said we are a moderately religious state and I personally put two lines under the word moderate. No, Sarah! We are a 100 per cent Muslim country and you should review and fully comprehend your expressions, which you have communicated to this channel, before uttering them

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