Students protest at Al-Azhar and culture minister's refuses to apologise. 

Herald Tribune 

CAIRO, Egypt: Nearly 1,000 students protested at a top Egyptian Islamic university on Tuesday against the culture minister after he criticized the Muslim veil, and dozens of lawmakers demanded his removal.  

The outcry from Muslim conservatives was swelling against Farouk Hosni over his comments in a newspaper interview, in which he said Egypt should return to a time when women didn't feel forced to wear the headscarf and that the Arab world will not move forward if it keeps "thinking backward." 

On Monday, 130 lawmakers signed a petition to have Hosni removed. In a rare agreement between political rivals, some members of the ruling National Democratic Party in parliament joined lawmakers from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood in signing the petition, accusing Hosni of "harming Islam." 

One of the NDP's most powerful figures in the 454-member Parliament, Kamal el-Shazly, called on Hosni to apologize to Egyptians, the state-run Al-Gomhuria daily reported Tuesday. 

Today in Africa & Middle East  Bomb attacks kill scores in Shiite stronghold in Baghdad Thousands in Lebanon honor Christian leader  Atomic agency postpones response to Iran's request for reactor help Some 1,000 students, including many veiled women, protested on Tuesday at Al-Azhar University, the most prominent Sunni Muslim institution, chanting slogans and carrying signs demanding Hosni's removal. 

The Muslim Brotherhood said in a satement Tuesday that the Parliament leadership rejected the request for Hosni's removal but promised to call the minister for questioning before the legislature's religious and cultural committees. 

Hosni said he would not attend unless the lawmakers first apologize for defaming him. "Let they forget about this (questioning) unless they apologize first, and then i will go to confront them," Hosni told Al-Arabiya television. 

On Sunday, Hosni refused to apologize for his comments, saying in an interview with al-Jazeera satellite channel, rejecting allegations that he harmed Islam or veiled women. Hosni, an abstract painter known of his liberal views, has been culture minister since 1987, making him Egypt's longest serving Cabinet minister. 

The Islamic headscarf has become more and more widespread among Egyptian women, part of an increasing conservative trend in the Arab world's most populated nation. Criticism of the veil is rare in the Egyptian press.

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