Tag Archives: sexual harassment in Egypt

Horror in the Streets

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By: Alexandra Kinias —-

Reading about the sexual harassment incidents that women are confronting in Egypt on a daily basis evokes flashes of memories of a time where I, too, was a victim of this abhorrent crime. Sexual harassment was an epidemic that had spread across the country like uncontrollable wild forest fires. And as far back as my memory recalls, it was an endless endeavor that every woman in Egypt was subjected to on daily basis as they traveled the unsafe and unguarded streets, infested with male rabid species that are bred to attack. These male species are only comparable to stray dogs that are roaming the streets, driven by their sexual desires. Unfortunately it has even worsen in the last two decades.

Reminiscing over the past is a double edged sword. Together with the great memories and nostalgia to a life that had once been, it is also like Pandora’s Box, where it is safer to keep the lid on to store painful memories away. With all the greatness of my childhood, it wasn’t a pleasant experience to be a woman walking in the streets of Egypt. From a young age I experienced sexual harassment and assault. However, you grow up accepting that the misfortunes that one encounters are part of the culture. It was not until I lived in other cultures that I learned that there was something terribly wrong with the picture back home. I have to admit that the situation now has degenerated to worse levels than what my generation had encountered.

Mideast Egypt Sexual Harassment

(AP Photo/ Mohammed Abu Zeid)

Some provide social justifications to the repugnant behavior of the sexual harassers that are often attributed to sexual deprivation that these men are experiencing, due to the high cost of marriage and their meager financial resources. A statement easily refuted as most of these men are married and a vast number of them are in their teens. And with this justification, would one should also accept that thieves should be acquitted since their thefts were committed for financial needs.

Other justifications include their straying away from the religion and losing their spiritual connection with God, and, of course, my favorite reason is women. Women are always to blame since it has been agreed that they are the core for all evil and the reason for all sins. And in the case of the sexual harassment, it is also their fault for wearing immodest attires that tempt men and arouse their sexual desires. These absurd justifications are merely to divert attention from the real problem. Women who reported sexual harassment varied from unveiled to wearing the niqab, which is the full body veil that covers the face as well. Even this full body armor didn’t protect them from being groped and assaulted.

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Sexual harassment and assault are global diseases and not just a unique trait exclusive of the Egyptian society. Horror stories about women’s abduction, rape and assault are reported in countries around the world. No woman is immune. What is staggering though is that while it is infesting the Egyptian society, there is absolute neglect and passiveness in dealing with it. It is more plausible to admit that the streets have been unguarded by the police forces for too long which has left the country as lawless as the Wild West. Loud voices are concealing the dangerous role played by religious fundamental channels and radical Islamists. They have been injecting their venom against women into the minds of men, without any intervention or regulation from the government to curb their influence, thus, resulting in the creation of a generation of misogynists. Moreover, the moral corruption and social degeneration of these men should be considered as a major factor.

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Photo by: Tarek Alfaramawy

When a pack of young boys no older than 12 years old surround a group of girls like hyenas, pulling the veil off their heads, groping their bodies and touching their private parts, that refutes the validity of the allegations about sexual deprivation. For these boys, it is just a game, or a source of entertainment. With no appropriate punishment for their actions, there are no reasons for them to stop.

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The meager measures that are taken to defeat this crime are grossly inadequate when compared to its escalating magnitude and high frequency. Worst yet, the inaction from the by-standers who are witnessing these crimes, without speaking out or assisting the women in distress is alarming and disturbing. Their silence culminates with the passiveness of the whole society against these criminals. It is not unusual to throw the blame rather than facing the real reasons. There is no magic wand or vaccine that could cure this disease. Only when the real causes are addressed and strong and effective measures are taken to deal with it, there would be hope for safer streets for the women to walk on.

(Photographic images in this article are owned by their respective copyright owner. Where possible the appropriate accreditation is given. Due to image alterations ownership of many images can not be verified. Where ownership is known a credit is as given.)

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Egyptian women sexually harassed at anti-harassment march!!!

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.

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Why sexual harassment?

By: Alexandra Kinias

October 21, 2008 was a victorious day not only for 27 years old filmmaker Noha Ostaz , but for all Egyptian women. For the first time in the history of the country’s judiciary system, the man who had sexually harassed Noha a year earlier, as she walked down a street, was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labor; a verdict that came as a surprise even to the lawyers.

Sexual harassment has become an epidemic that is spreading like terminal cancer into the society. An earlier incident of a notorious mass sexual harassment that rocked Egypt in 2006 made head lines in the New York Times.

On that national day  celebrating a religious holiday, mobs of men gathered in front of movie theaters.  As women exited after the shows were over, the chaotic downtown Cairo became a scene of a mass sexual frenzy. That took place in broad daylight in front of the eyes of the policemen. They not only didn’t come to the rescue, but as witnesses they reported that women were to be blamed for the incident because of their  provocative dressing. That was far from the truth because the attackers targeted both veiled and unveiled women.  The policemen’s reaction didn’t come as a surprise to anyone, for they had been accused themselves of sexually assaulting women in a demonstration that took place months earlier. Women who were assaulted were denied the right to report the incident.

I am not in a comparative mode here, but laws in America that protect women from sexual harassment didn’t come from thin air. The movie North Country not only inspired me to write this article, but it again proved that women have to fight their own battles. What happened to the characters of the women in the movie, which was inspired by true events,  still happens to women in Egypt, at work and in the streets. But unlike the women in the movie, Egyptian women still have to take the initiative to protect themselves.

Believing that men would voluntarily issue laws against themselves to protect women is a myth. And sadly enough as I had seen in the movie and in real life, most women who are abused and harassed become submerged in their own fears and wouldn’t stand up for their own rights.

After the movie theaters’ incident in Cairo, television screens were swarmed with people who had solution.  Religious groups always have the easiest, fastest and most effective one; veil the women. And if there was no need for them to be out, might as well lock them up. Once the streets are cleared men won’t find anyone to grope.  Psychologists said their words, and so did the social workers, and lawyers. Great shows were produced, but the real reason was never addressed.

I believe such incidents happen because men are let to do what they want and get away with it. There are no drastic solutions based on dialogue, education or religion. Those who assault women in any shape or form should be punished.  If severe laws were issued to protect women, men will think twice. The Egyptian government, by implementing high fines, was able to enforce the seat belt law in three months. And it makes me wonder why the safety of women walking on foot is not as remotely important.

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