A primary school teacher in Egypt cut the hair of two 9-year-old girls as punishment for not obeying her orders to wear Muslim headscarves to class.
The incident has fueled fears the country’s Islamist government is emboldening extremist movements and encroaching on personal rights, RT news.
The father of one of the girls, Berbesh Khairi El-Rawi, decried the teacher’s actions.
He told The Associated Press that he filed a complaint after the incident with the prosecutor's office in Luxor and pulled his daughter from the school, Fox reported.
The teacher, Iman Ahmed Kilani, a grade-school science teacher – who wears the full Islamic face veil (niqab) – said she punished Ola El-Qassem and Mona El-Rawi for failing to heed her orders to put on the hijab (scarf) in the classroom.
"It started as a joke with the girls when I told them I would cut their hair if they don't wear headscarves," Kilani told Reuters by telephone.
Kilani told the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper that "last Wednesday, one of my boy students reminded me to carry out my threat and gave me scissors from his school bag."
"I used them and cut small amounts of their hair," she said. "I did it to maintain my authority."
The girls’ teacher reportedly forced them to stand with their hands above their heads for two hours before cutting their hair.
Asked about the public's reaction, Al-Masry al-Youm, quoted the teacher as saying: "I did not imagine that cutting off two centimeters (of hair) was a great crime," according to AFP.
She underlined that she only resorted to cutting the girls’ hair after giving them repeated warnings for not covering their heads with the traditional hijab.
“The ill-intentioned media has exaggerated the incident,” she added, according to GulfNews.
Education Minister Ibrahim Ghoneim told Al-Masry Al-Youm Wednesday that disciplinary action has been taken against the teacher.
The Luxor Education Department referred the teacher to its legal affairs office, docked Kilani one month’s payment, and transferred her to another school.
Egypt on the road to Sharia law?
Ziad Abdel Tawab of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights said the incident was alarming but not surprising, The Guardian reported.
"Whether in schools or outside schools, the general sentiment is that any abusive action, if it is justified as protection of Islam, is tolerable," he said.
The incident follows a surge in legal cases against Egyptians, mostly Christians, who allegedly showed contempt for religion.
It also comes amid a fierce debate over how the role of religion will be defined in the country's new constitution. The preponderance of Islamists on the panel drafting the document has alarmed liberals and religious minorities.
"We feel that many of the hardline Islamists feel empowered by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power to impose their strict views on society," said human rights activist Gamal Eid. There are also worries that the new constitution could put Egypt on the road to Sharia law.