Egypt state TV orders female hosts to lose weight

Egypt's state broadcaster has suspended eight of its female TV presenters and told them to go on a diet, sparking uproar among women's rights groups.

The Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) has given the women one month to slim down before they can appear on air again with an "appropriate appearance", the Al-Yawm al-Sabi website reports. The ERTU has a female director, Safaa Hegazy, a former state TV anchor herself.

The announcement prompted an outcry among the affected presenters. Khadija Khattab, a host on Egypt's Channel 2, told the paper that she wants people to watch her most recent TV appearances and judge for themselves if she is really "fat", and whether she deserves to be prevented from working. Another presenter said the situation had upset their families and should have been dealt with internally.

The Women's Centre for Guidance and Legal Awareness condemned the move, saying it "violates the constitution" and is a form of violence against women. It's called on the ERTU to backtrack. Despite the criticism, ERTU sources told the Veto news website that the decision won't be reversed, but that the women won't have their pay and benefits docked.

Egyptian media commentators are debating whether the suspensions were justified. At the state-owned Al-Ahram daily, journalist Fatma al-Sharawi says she thinks the policy should be applied across local TV stations. But author and academic Waheed Abdul Majid thinks the channel should focus on improving its content rather than the appearance of the presenters.

On social media, some users voiced support for the women, but others called them "bakabouzas", a term Egyptians use to describe overweight girls. One female Twitter user described ERTU head Safaa Hegazy as a "strong woman" for making the decision.

The presenters have been defended in parliament, though, with male MP and journalist Sayyid Hegazy asking: "Who is an ideal weight in Egypt?" He told the Sada al-Balad news site that a presenter "might be a little overweight, but she is eloquent".