Egyptian female bodyguards mix hijabs with aikido

Egypt's first female bodyguard unit empowers women while meeting a demand for increased security among wealthy women and at major events.

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    Secure: A 'lady guard' (right) on duty at an upscale shop in Egypt. The women carry no weapons, but are trained in martial arts. They helped provide security at a controversial Beyoncé concert held in Cairo last fall.
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Imagine “Men in Black” meets hijabs and neon eyeliner.

Dressed in identical black suits, white-collared shirts, and silver head scarves, Dwleat Nanvey and Maha Hamied are part of Egypt’s growing corps of “lady guards,” trained to provide protection to high-powered Arab women. Visitors clamped in one of the ladies’ vise-grip handshakes will notice a golden pin on her lapel – a soaring falcon, her employer’s symbol.

The Falcon Group, as the Egypt-based security company is known, is pioneering a new model of protection that both signals and supports the rising status of women here. Falcon’s female-guard unit, the first of its kind for women clients, is creating an empowering new career for its employees while capitalizing on the demands of an increasingly conservative society.

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“As an Eastern and Oriental country, the women here do not like to be inspected or guarded by men, so we thought of this idea,” says Mohamed Elshenhaby, security director for the firm, which plans to expand into Lebanon this year. “We expect [demand] to keep increasing, because now women go everywhere and they need security.”

While it might seem paradoxical, the company thrives on a combination of women’s professional achievement and an increasingly religious culture that discourages the mixing of unmarried men and women.

Three years ago, the firm, which offers everything from electronic surveillance to cash management, started the unit with 20 women. It now boasts a roster of 300-plus.

The female guards work in personal or commercial security, including guarding stores in shopping malls.

The Falcon Group emphasizes diplomatic solutions over brute force, though the women’s aikido martial arts training and imposing demeanors suggest they have plenty of that, too. In November, the company’s “lady guard” unit worked with its male guards to secure the controversial Beyoncé concert that drew scorn from Muslim clerics.

“They have been trained to use their minds,” says Mr. Elshenhaby. “It’s more than using her arms.... But if needed, she can fight.”

Members of the female-guard unit describe challenges associated with their work, but say the advantages outweigh any initial problems. Ms. Nanvey was one of the original 20 guards in Falcon’s first unit. “At the beginning it was hard, but now I can do anything,” she beams through electric-green eyeliner.

As Middle Eastern society adapts to women’s growing success in the workplace and presence outside the home, both Nanvey and Ms. Hamied find they have a job to do.

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