An International Women’s Day demonstration in Cairo’s Tahir Square turned violent when a group of men attacked it. Photograph: Str/AP
By: Alexandra Kinias
A women’s march on June 8th demanding the end of sexual harassment in Egypt took a wrong turn when a mobs of men violently assaulted the women and caused injuries and mass chaos. Eyewitnesses from Tahrir square reported on their twitter accounts that they were groped, beaten and humiliated by the angry thugs who were out there to break the march.
Sexual harassment can only be described as an epidemic that has been wildly spreading in the streets of Egypt without control. A survey conducted in 2008 by The Egyptian Council of women reported that 83% of women had been subjected to sexual harassment. Egyptian women, who took the streets to fight side by side along their male peers in Tahrir square during the 18 days that ended the rule of Hosny Mubarak, expected that with the end of the old regime a new future will be drafted for them.
In her interview with the guardian, Egyptian activist Marianne Ibrahim explained her failed expectations and diminishing hopes for the Egyptian women, “During the 18 days against Mubarak there were no women and men. It was just Egyptians in danger. I was in the square almost daily and I didn’t witness a single case of sexual harassment.” She said. “But that changed after Mubarak stepped down. We were back to face the reality of where we are as Egyptian women. We’re not a priority even with fellow revolutionaries.
The months that followed the Egyptian revolution witnessed a major setback for the women. Instead of being rewarded for their efforts that changed the course of history, they gained nothing but further degradation to their status. With the exception of nine women who were elected in the parliament, their role in their political life in Egyptian was nullified. To add to their humiliation, the new elected parliament is discussing the repeal of laws that had previously granted them the rights to divorce and to abolish the laws that banned FGM and marriage of minors. When women voiced their dismay and demands in marches, they were violently attacked by mobs.
Organized mobs harassing women don’t operate in a vacuum. Similar incidents of aggression occurred on International Women’s Day when women marched in Tahrir demanding more political and civil rights. The fact that Mubarak is out of power doesn’t mean that his regime was abolished. Egypt that has been ruled with an iron grip for the last sixty years, thirty of which were under Mubarak, is still being operating with the same doctrine that was instated by Nasser and copied from the Iron curtain countries.
Sexually harassing female protestors is an established practice invented by Mubarak’s National Democratic party and dates back to 2005, a weapon still widely used worldwide, to intimidate female protestors and combat opposition. Incidents that women had been sexually harassed with excessive use of violence by antiriot police during Mubarak’s reign was not uncommon.
With the rise of Islamists to power in the last year, Egyptian women are caught between the rock and the hard place and their already fragile status is rapidly declining. Islamists won’t rest until they clean the streets and work places from women. Women demanding equal rights are an obstacle to their cause.
Sexual harassment and violence against women are commonly used by many governments to silence women and men who oppose the government. In societies where women’s bodies are scared, it is the cheapest and easiest way to break their spirits and bring shame to their families. The video of the Egyptian girl that was dodged and stomped in the streets of Cairo, and became famous as the blue bra incident, shocked the world at the atrocities women in Egypt are exposed to when they took the streets to rally against the situation in Egypt after the revolution.
The blame for the current situation in Egypt is shared by everybody. It is the fault of a government that was responsible for an ailing education system that left citizens victims to the venomous brainwash of radical Islamic scholars, who mushroomed under the eyes and ears of the government. It is the fault of the society and culture that raises girls to be ashamed of their bodies, voices, faces and existence. It is the fault of the mothers who are abused by men, yet raise their sons to be disrespectful to women and last but not least, it is the fault of the religious scholars who consider women as commodities and spread fatwas to beat them instead of respecting them.
Women have lost a battle, but the war for women’s rights and equality is not over yet, because it is fought by fearless women who stood against a dictator. So far the revolution has failed women, yet they are not giving up. Women are angry, but they are not defeated. They are aware that the revolution has changed everything. It has combated their fear and raised their voices. “… the revolution has also changed the situation. You can see it in the young women. We are more persistent in claiming our rights. More women are talking about sexual harassment than before. We are open about it and we are clear about our demands. The social change that is taking place – it’s gradual but it’s still there.” Ibrahim said.