CAIRO (Reuters) - An Egyptian school teacher was fired on Wednesday for cutting the hair of two 12-year-old girl pupils because they were not wearing Islamic headscarves, an act condemned as an illegal violation of human rights by a leading woman's organisation.
Iman Abu Bakr Kilany, a science teacher who wears a full veil, said she had been dismissed from her school in the southern town of Luxor following complaints by relatives of the girls - the only two in her class who did not wear headcarves.
"It started as a joke with the girls when I told them I would cut their hair if they don't wear headscarves," Kilany told Reuters by telephone. "Last Wednesday, one of my boy students reminded me and gave me scissors from his school bag and I used them and cut small amounts of their hair."
Though apparently a symbolic act, the incident was seen as the latest example of hardline Muslims trying to impose their values on others in Egypt - a country now governed by Islamists.
"Without exaggeration, 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.
Many Egyptian women wear the headscarf, but the country's Islamic scholars typically say it should only be out of free choice. That view is shared by the Muslim Brotherhood - the group which propelled President Mohamed Mursi to power in June.
Kilany said she had asked all her girl students to put on the headscarf, saying it was required for girls older than 10 to do so - a view not shared by many Muslims. "Our religious traditions makes it obligatory," she said.
The National Council For Women (NCW) condemned Kilany in a statement on Wednesday, saying her act "violates Egyptian law, the rights of humans and the rights of children".
While Mursi and his administration have repeatedly said they will not seek to impose strict Islamic codes on Egypt, the rise to prominence of an array of Islamist groups is alarming more secular-minded Egyptians and the country's sizeable Christian minority.
In one headline-grabbing incident, a young man out with his fiancée was stabbed to death by three Islamist zealots in Suez in July. The killers were sent to 15 years in jail last month.
Kilany said she would be reassigned to a role in the bureaucracy and docked one month's salary.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Tom Perry and Jon Hemming