CAIRO Egypt's High Administrative Court overturned on Wednesday a ban on female students wearing the niqab, or full face veil, in university examinations, saying it violated women's constitutional rights.
The case, and that of a religious edict banning the niqab in girls' school dormitories, has bounced back and forth among various courts since Minister of Higher Education Hany Helal imposed the ban in October.
Helal said the niqab was used to cover up cheating, including students sitting exams in the place of colleagues, but 55 students appealed against the ban. A Cairo court had ruled earlier this month in favor of the ban.
"Freedom to wear the niqab is guaranteed by human rights and constitutional liberties, and a girl's right to dress the way she sees fit in accordance with her beliefs and her social environment is a firm right that cannot be violated," Wednesday's court ruling said.
It is the highest court to have ruled on the issue so far.
"The niqab cannot be used to oppress women," the court said, adding that university campuses should be places of intellectualism and freedom. However, it said a student wearing the niqab must show her face when asked to for security reasons.
The government crushed Islamists seeking to set up a religious state in the 1990s and has been keen to quell Islamist opposition before a parliamentary election expected by December, and a later presidential vote.
Mid-year examinations have been underway since the beginning of the month, and a number of students at a Cairo university wore surgical masks to get round the ban.
Most Islamic scholars say they believe wearing a headscarf is a must, while few consider the niqab obligatory, with Egypt's top religious authorities saying in December that the face veil had no basis in Islam.
(Writing by Dina Zayed; Additional reporting by Saleh El Salhi; editing by David Stamp)