Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Tuesday, 12 May 2009 07:31 UK

Egypt MP addresses national dress

By Waleed Badran
BBC Arabic

Egyptian men in galabeyyas
The galabeyya is a very democratic form of dress, MP Mustapha Gindy believes

The galabeyya, a traditional ankle-length gown worn by Egyptian men, may be about to get official status if an Egyptian MP gets his way.

Mustapha al-Gindy wants the simple galabeyya, until now more associated with men in rural areas or manual labourers, to be promoted as the national costume of Egypt .

"Everywhere, except Egypt that is, people have their national dress," Mr Gindy protests.

"In Egypt, if you wear a galabeyya, you might find yourself barred from 70% of public places. This is both unconstitutional and inhuman."

People can wear what they like. The galabeyya should just not be off limits
Doaa Saleh, civil engineer

"'This is particularly ironic in a country where close to three quarters of our male population wear galabeyyas."

"In a galabeyya, you can't tell a George from a Muhammad," Mr Gindy adds, referring to the country's religious make-up in which Muslims outnumber Christians by 9-to-1.

What he calls "the war against the galabeyya" has resulted in other costumes coming to prominence and he believes threatening the national identity.

"You get Saudi, Afghan, Pakistani, Omani galabeyyas instead. The list goes on," he says.

And he wants Egyptians to wear their own national galabeyya with pride when they travel abroad, instead of adopting the local variations.

While some MPs wear the galabeyya in the Majlis or parliament, Mr Gindy says you will only see Saudi tourists in their national dress at places such as the opera house or up-market hotels.

'Just for show'

But some residents from poorer neighbourhoods of Cairo are not as sympathetic as you might think.

Abdessalam Munir, a teacher, told the BBC: "I wouldn't like to be judged by something I wouldn't like to wear".

Egyptian man in galabeyya
Egyptian identity goes beyond the galabeyya, according to many nationals

"The galabeyya is not synonymous with men of Egypt's poorer backgrounds. We have our shirts, trousers, suits and all," he said.

Meanwhile, journalist Heba Qudsi thinks the idea of a national identity is better served by things other than a clothes.

"Our identity as Egyptians goes far beyond the galabeyya. This is an organic identity; it keeps with the pace of life, it evolves," she says.

"A normal dress or suit is not a blind imitation of the West. The whole world dresses this way," she adds.

Businessman Sherif Saad is far from impressed. "The less said about that the better. Everyday, people come up with that sort of nonsense. You'd do well to ignore it."

But Doaa Saleh, a civil engineer, thinks the idea is not a bad one.

"When Jamal Sleiman (a well-known Syrian actor) donned the galabeyya, he looked quite dishy, didn't he?" she says.

She hopes the Egyptian galabeyya will enjoy the same cultural status as the Jilbab in the Gulf countries.

"In the end, it's a matter of personal preference. People can wear what they like. The galabeyya should just not be off limits, if people choose to wear it."

(Translated from Arabic by Saher Fares)

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