Woman to Woman: The First Miss Arab World Beauty Pageant

by Anisa Benmoktar on April 4, 2010

As the debate surrounding women and the veil swirls and simmers to a boil in some Euro-countries, one extraordinary beauty pageant has added an unusual spin on “the V Word.”

Miss Arab World 2009/ Photo by Asmaa Waguih

Miss Arab World 2009/ Photo by Asmaa Waguih

The 2010 Miss Arab World Contest ignited considerable controversy, for two reasons. First up, it welcomed veiled and non-veiled Arab women from around the world to compete.

Encouraging Arab Women to Shine

The pageant took place in Cairo, on November 11, 2009. Sixteen stunning women aged 18-24 years old; each representing an Arab country waltzed down the catwalk before the jury and international media.

As our friends at Muslimah Media Watch wisely point out, the pageant encouraged Arab women to celebrate their own values and feel good about themselves without having to conform to beauty ideals dictated by other cultures.

MMW quotes All Beirut News on the ideology behind the contest:

“The Miss Arab World pageant aims to be more inclusive by allowing veiled and non-veiled women to compete alongside without having to compromise their values for events like swimwear competitions. Instead, the contestants strut down the catwalk in their national costumes.”

Bones of Contention

Mawadda Nour from Saudi Arabia was crowned Miss Arab World 2009, and Jessy Zaher from Lebanon was first runner up. No sooner had the winners been announced than a fresh wave of controversy welled up.

Mawadda Nour

Why? Because Mawadda Nour isn’t stick-thin.

According to critics, Miss Nour doesn’t meet the “standard requirements of beauty pageant contestants.” Sawsan Al Sayed, head of the jury, told Wikeez that the Mawadda Nour was not a unanimous choice.

Yet, Hanan Nasr, head of the beauty pageant, told MMW “The main reason Nour has won the title was the fact the she is an example of the modest beautiful Arab intellectual girl who is beloved by all.”

Looking at the photos of a beaming Maddawa Nour wearing her prize-winning sash, she looks to me like a stunning, and very real woman, and a much better role model for young women than some of the stick-thin models I see in magazines and on billboards.

Beauty and the Media Beast

I give the Miss Arab World pageant and its organizers a big thumbs up for daring to go against the standardised norm. They’ve overwritten convoluted media ideals of beauty and encouraged Arab women to take pride in their culture, heritage and… intelligence.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

kautar April 28, 2010 at 3:34 am

hey i woould like to jion the arabic beauty pageant its allways been my dream can you please show me where the location is and how i can sign thanks alot
by kautar

gasser October 28, 2010 at 1:28 pm

this event is awesomeeeee. its really nice to have such arabian events in our middle easttt

Inaze Fatima October 30, 2010 at 11:19 am

Allah has blessed us all with beauty, and as muslim woman our religion teaches us to conceal our beauty and keep ourselves out of the eyes of starnge men. thus dear sisters in islam dont fall for the temptations of this modern world. Masha-Allah we are all beautiful, wake up every morning and acknowledge your beauty but remember Allah has created you….wouldnt we seem ungrateful if we don’t look after this gift of beauty by flaunting it? i don’t have anything against the ladies who participated but i just felt like sharing my opinion.

ina hamrah October 30, 2010 at 9:40 pm

@inaze: the objective of a beauty contest is cross cultural experience.and diversity to brotherhood its not about whos the prettiest..didnt you noticed even the most beautiful will not even win? becoz judges doesnt go for the “skin deep mind-set” any more.
waht is important is the substance of a woman and the beauty that come from with in.the world is changing…even in the biblical times beauty contest exsist..read the story of ester.

Delilah November 8, 2010 at 2:51 am

As a beauty contestant, this Saudi winner was definitely too fat. She has the chin of a 45 year old. But there can’t be any way this was really about beauty when Islamic values are more important anyway. In Saudi whoever has wasta – influence and money – wins. I’m sure this girl’s father had a lot of wasta.

Manayer December 9, 2010 at 4:08 am

Hello and thankyou very much for this post! I participated in Miss Arab World 2009 representing Kuwait, and many people just didnt understand the significance of such a pageant. People either assume a pageant is to flaunt beauty or attract attention. Miss Arab World is completely different. First off, the women were chosen based on theire CVS – academic achievements, athleticism, talent, confidence, etc. Beauty was 20% of the final grade. The pageant shows the world that a woman doesnt need to flaunt her “assets” in order to be a role model beauty queen. Thanks again for your post!

Leena December 13, 2010 at 1:50 am

Namaste everyone…I am a neither a muslim nor an arab ..lol.. but i had to comment after stumbling across this site….the concept of not adhering to conventional beauty standards is rather refreshing and im happy for my muslim arab sisters for this opportunity….many interested beautiful girls from conservative backgrounds cannot participate in the typical skin-show beauty contests and thus the winner is the one can bare a lot and not necessarily the most physically beautiful in that country…though personally some people say beauty contests are demeaning..i find the idea behind Miss arab world to be pleasantly different. :) love , leena.

thoreya December 31, 2012 at 10:10 pm

wow miss Somalia she is the beautiful lots of love for u darling win win make ur country proud and we are already proud of u for showing the world what somalia is miss somalia win win win hopefully love xoxoxox!

we love you sweet heart

majd April 20, 2013 at 5:21 pm

miss somalia is gorgeous, think she should have won. byt these arabs wont allow that happen coz of racism

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