Samira Ibrahim’s name was not very popular in Egypt, yet her poignant experience caught the attention of Amnesty International and several local human rights groups. Ibrahim and seven other women were sexually assaulted in an Egyptian military detention center where she was kept for four days. Unlike her peers, Ibrahim chose not to remain silent and pursued legal actions against her abusers and filed two suits against the practice, one demanding it be banned and another accusing an officer of sexual assault.
On a crackdown on demonstrators in Tahrir square on March 9, 2011, a month after President Mubarak was forced to step down, Ibrahim was arrested along 172 other demonstrators, including 17 women. The women were shoved inside a police van and upon arrival to the detention center; the army officers threated them with prostitution charges. To prove their innocence, Samira and the other girls were forced to take their clothes off and undergo a virginity test, by a male doctor, in a room with opened windows and doors, through which male soldiers were watching them and taking photographs using their cell phones.
In a society where women’s honor and chastity are related to her virginity, rape and sexual assault are rarely reported because such crimes bring shame on the victim and her family. — one recent report from 2003 found as many as 98 percent of rape and sexual assault cases are not reported to authorities. However, Ibrahim with the support of her family broke this taboo and exposed the violation against her. In a televised interview, Ibrahim explained that she filed the suits because she wanted to spare women what she had gone through.
Despite the admission of an Egyptian army general to CNN that these checks were indeed conducted on girls so women could not later accuse the officers of rape, the Army lawyer denied Ibrahim allegations and requested the case to be closed for lack of evidence. Ibrahim waited impatiently for nine months while her legal representatives’ worked on her case.
During the thirty years of Mubarak’s reign, women status in Egypt has reached its lowest, perhaps in the last fifty years. Sexual harassment has reached unprecedented levels. In addition to the daily harassment women were subjected to in the streets, on various national holidays, a sexual harassment squad that consisted of hundreds of government thugs, targeted women gathering in parks or in front of movie theaters. The motives were obviously to humiliate and plant fear into their hearts.
Under tyrannical regimes, assault on women is often used as a weapon to silence the oppositions by threatening to violate their wives or daughters. The virginity tests the female demonstrators were subjected to were yet another form of rape, not just sexual, but emotional and mental as well. The purpose of this humiliating procedure was merely to degrade women and to stop them from sharing in the political life. It was a common practice prior to the Egyptian revolution of January 25 that women who shared in rallies against Mubarak’s rule were systematically assaulted by anti-riots police.
On December 27,2011, few days after the world witnessed the blue bra incident, that shook the world, when a woman was dragged and beaten up in the streets of Cairo by the army police, the Egyptian courts ordered the country’s military rulers to ban the use of “virginity tests” on female detainees. Human rights activists celebrated the ruling that restored some justice to the abused women. Ibrahim’s lawyers were hopeful that the army doctor who performed the procedure would be charged with sexual assault. But against all expectations, on January 2, 2012, the judge charged him with performing an act of indecency which would cost him a fine of fifty dollars and a maximum sentence of a year in jail. A sexual assault charge would have sent him fifteen years in jail.
The ruling was condemned by human rights organizations. It not only didn’t bring justice to the victims, but it also meant that the doctor was punished for his personal conduct, as if he had acted on his own rather than following orders. It is obvious that the Egyptian military that refuses to hold its officials accountable for the atrocities committed against civilians had a saying in the verdict.
It is still unclear if Ibrahim’s lawyers will appeal the verdict.
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