Is This Egyptian Girl 'Wild' and 'Crazy' -- or a Girl Gone Mild?

As the sun dips below the Great Pyramids, the Islamic call to prayer echoes across Cairo.

In her apartment next door to a mosque, Ro'ya Zanaty, 21, can hear the muezzin's wail loud and clear as she covers her hair and neck with the traditional veil. But she is not going to pray tonight. She is answering the call to fun.

Her cell phone rings, she grabs her purse, checks her reflection and locks the apartment door. After climbing into a BMW and greeting her friends, Zanaty's first order of business is plugging in her i-Pod and cranking Nickelback.

They sing along at full throat, dancing in their seats. They shuffle between Justin Timberlake and Lebanese pop as the car zips over the Nile, in and out of Cairo's epic honking traffic. They wave at passing cars and start a road game of "truth or dare."



"What's your biggest regret?" Zanaty asks her friends.

"I dated a jerk," Hanaa Mohammed replies from the driver's seat.

If not for Zanaty's veil, they could be easily mistaken for a group of giggling American co-eds headed to a night club. But by Western standards, these are girls gone mild.

They've never tasted a beverage stronger than Pepsi. They spend more time on Facebook than on dance floors. Until they're married, they will live with their parents or watchful older relatives. And they are saving their first kiss for their wedding night.


Yet a veiled Muslim displaying this kind of Western fun with two unveiled friends is frowned upon in much of Egypt and the Middle East.

"She's wild. She's crazy," says Ayat, Zanaty's older sister. "She is more of the rebellious type, stubborn rebellious. I'm more the quiet type. Blend in with the crowd, she's blend out of the crowd."

The internal tug-of-war for the secular Muslim is obvious when she talks about the opposite sex. Asked if she would ever approach a man and ask him out, she seems nonchalant. "If I liked him that much, sure. Why not? I mean what difference does it make who asks who first?"

Then, she pauses for a beat. "My parents really shouldn't know this."


The Zanaty sisters spent much of their youth in arch-conservative Saudi Arabia and the influence of that culture and their devout Muslim parents is still felt in their modest Cairo apartment. Though she doesn't consider herself religious, Ro'ya Zanaty chose to wear the veil as a sign of purity and self-discipline.

"I'm trying to do the right thing, each one of us has our own way," she says. "You could be good in your actions, but not veiled or be veiled and not [good]. In our circle of friends, I'm the only one that's veiled. I'm a normal girl. I'd like to flip my hair and basically show off. We are in a hot country, layering and covering does start to get at you at some point, especially during the summer. But my unveiled friends are the ones that actually keep me stable. They're like 'if one of us is doing the right thing, we might as well encourage her.'"

Her family would have preferred she attend an all-girls school, but Zanaty earned a degree in mass communication from the co-ed Misr International University and works on campus as a teaching assistant, making around $450 a month. She dreams of running her own advertising agency, but admits she would have to leave her country to make that dream come true. There is gender discrimination, but a more relevant challenge is the woeful job market.

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