CAIRO—With her long, dark tumble of glossy hair, sensuous lips and provocative stare, Hala Shiha reigns as "the Aphrodite of the Egyptian cinema."
Producers throw starring roles at the 25-year-old actress' feet. Teenage girls decorate their rooms with her posters. Fan magazines scramble to feature her in their pages.
Scarcely a trace of makeup on her ethereally pallid face, Shiha appeared wearing a snowy white hijab, the traditional Muslim head scarf, primly pinned under her chin and modestly draped over her chest.
"This is something I wanted for a long time," she told the magazine, whose name means "the planets." "Being a star isn't a dream anymore. I'm only busy in my religion now. I know the veil will lessen the roles offered, but maybe this will make me look for another job besides acting."
Shiha's embrace of the veil, a rising phenomenon among Egyptian women, is the most visible symbol of a conservative Islamic resurgence that is sweeping across Egypt. But it is not the only one.
During the past 30 years, a conservative Islamic revival has been quietly transforming the nation's culture and society, forcing Egyptians and their political leaders to engage in an increasingly difficult balancing act between mosque and state.
The result is a nation that daily is becoming less secular. That such a thing could happen in sophisticated Cairo, once the Middle East's cosmopolitan Hollywood on the Nile and heart of Arabic publishing, portends a cultural trend that could sweep through moderate Arab nations and set them on an even more anti-Western tilt.
The shift away from the moderate style of Islam long practiced in Egypt is pronounced, according to Nagwa Shoeb, director of public relations at the liberal American University in Cairo.
"What you're seeing is an overt sign of your faith. We never did it before. It used to be a private affair," said Shoeb.
Public displays of piety are everywhere.
Egyptian men point with pride to the zabibas on their foreheads--large, bruise-colored calluses raised by the constant thumping of the forehead to the floor in prayer.
Audiences at movie theaters rise in protest against films that offend increasingly conservative Islamic sensibilities.
On the airwaves, a new, flashier brand of media-savvy preacher woos young Muslims away from decadent Western ways, emphasizing praying over partying.
Government censors, sometimes at the behest of students, yank books from college curricula for containing what they consider offensive depictions of sex, religion or the Egyptian state.
In some countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, the practice of Islam is imposed from above.
But in Egypt, the move toward a more conservative Islam is bubbling up from a population frustrated by decades of ineffective leadership, recurring humiliation of Arabs at the hands of Israel and the West, rampant corruption and heavy-handed suppression of dissent.
Having tried everything from Pan-Arabism to socialism, many Egyptians, rich and poor, see a return to Islam as a way to restore hope, peace and dignity to their lives. Threatened by a changing world, rife with Western influences, they perceive Islam as a comforting source of strong family values, an unyielding moral code and a clear guide to life.
Not every Egyptian is happy or willing to ride this wave of stricter Islamic observance. Indeed, barely two months after renouncing acting in early 2003, the nubile starlet Shiha shed her veil and resumed her career.