Women in Egypt

Comments on the mob sexual harassment of women in Cairo, and on the status of women in Egyptian society.

On the first two days of Eid in Cairo, a mob of hundreds of men swept through downtown attacking and sexually assaulting random girls in an animalistic display that must boggle every mind. Apparently, the utter lack of basic decency, respect for women, or the rule of law was not confined to Ramadan alone - in fact, Ramadan was the only thing suppressing the baser instincts of these men. I feel sick at heart, and may never spend time downtown again, as it seems we women are actively in danger there. Will Cairo one day be like Mogadishu, where every woman is raped before she turns 16?

Who to blame? I'll go with law enforcement. I was assigned an article once that said that a rape takes place every three minutes in North America alone; God knows what the number is worldwide. Many rapes are not reported. It is safe to say that is it futile to rail against dangerous male misconceptions of sex, and women, and consent. The only thing that can prevent sexual assault is fear of consequences, a fear that is entirely absent in Egypt. Socially, people don't give a shit – it's the woman's fault, somehow, and apparently hormones serve as a complete defense to any crime.

Egyptian Sandmonkey:
The story is as follows for the those of you who didn't hear about it: It was the first day of Eid, and a new film was opening downtown. Mobs of males gatherd trying to get in, but when the show was sold out, they decided they will destroy the box office. After accomplishing that, they went on what can only be described as a sexual frenxy: They ran around grabbing any and every girl in sight, whether a niqabi, a Hijabi or uncoverd. Whether egyptian or foreigner. Even pregnant ones. They grabbed them, molested them, tried to rip their cloths off and rape them, all in front of the police, who didn't do shit. The good people of downtown tried their best to protect the girls. Shop owners would let the girls in and lock the doors, while the mobs tried to break in. Taxi drivers put the girls in the cars while the mobs were trying to break the glass and grab the girls out. It was a disgusting pandamonium of sexual assaults that lasted for 5 houres from 7:30 PM to 12:30 am, and it truns my stomach just to think about it.

I called my father when I heard of that happening, and he informed me that he didn't hear of it at all. They watched Al Jazeerah, CNN, flipped through opposition newspapers, and nothing. Nada. Nobody mentioned it. As if it didn't happen.

Big Pharaoh:
My analysis of sexual harassment in Egypt will revolve around two factors: socioeconomic factors and cultural/religious aspects.

First, socioeconomic factors. The country is rampant with vacuum and unemployment. University graduates spend years before finding a decent job and even if they found one they'll still struggle to make ends meet if they decided to get married after years of staying single. Even college students suffer from their own form of unemployment. Millions of young Egyptians enroll in good for nothing faculties every year and many of them don't even bother to attend classes. The office boy who works in the multinational company that employs me holds a degree in commerce. Pass by any cafe in Cairo and you will definitely see unemployed youth and college students lingering there smoking shisha.

Another social factor is the difficulty of male-female relationship in Egypt. Yes boyfriend-girlfriend relations do exist but still many young Egyptians find it very hard to have a relationship with the opposite sex because of several issues among them the society's frowning upon such relations. So what do you get when you mix poverty, social deprivation, an empty life, idleness, and marriage postponement? You get sex bombs walking down the streets.

Second, the cultural religious aspect. Many religious figures and especially the political Islamists among them claim that Egyptians were not religious 50 or 40 years ago and they're now flocking to religion. They do have a point. Today the vast majority of women don the hair cover, mosques are full on Fridays, and churches are full on Sundays. However one can't help but ask this question: if we presumed that Egyptians were not religious back then and they're "holier" today, why can't my cousin do today what my mother did 40 years ago and walk in downtown Cairo without getting harassed? Why is corruption, theft, laziness, and sexual harassment rampant in our society? I mean aren't we supposed to be religious? Aren't our girls covered? Aren't our Muslims praying in the streets because mosques are overcrowded on fridays? Aren't our Christians in church every Sunday?

The answer to the above questions lies in the fact that our religiosity is nothing but an emphasis on outward appearances. It is nothing more than an opium that anesthetizes us against our troubles and failures. Exactly like a real drug. This is the reason why religion has done nothing to improve our "inner self" nor let women enjoy a basic right such as walking on the street without fear.

Now what does that have to do with the reason that led to the mass sexual assault? Very simple. This wave of fake superficial religiosity has done something terrible. It has devalued women. ...

Blame Dina!
The weekly newspaper El Esboua is blaming Egypt's top belly dancer for the mass sexual harassment that took place in front of a downtown movie theater! Dina went to the cinema to attend the premier of her newly released movie. Surrounded by her bodyguards, she started dancing in front of a multitude of young men who were celebrating the Eid holidays by going to the movies.

Sexual harassment caught on tape.
Filmmaker and activist Sherif Sadek shot a video of gangs running after girls in downtown Cairo when he visited Egypt during the last Eid el Adha (the feast of the sacrifice) in January 2006. So it's now clear that such a thing did happen before. (h/t 3arabawy)

There are two observations. First, notice how the police are standing there without doing anything to save the girls. Second, the girls whom the gang was chasing were not wearing the hair cover. Things developed in the latest incident. Gulf girls covered from head to toe were attacked and stripped.

Women demonstrate against sexual harassment.
Women protested today against sexual harassment and police failure to protect women. I really wanted to attend this protest and take pictures of my own. I asked my boss if he would allow me leave for 2 hours and then come back to work. "Where are you going? To the bank?" he asked. "No I'm going to attend a demonstration against sexual harassment in front of the journalist syndicate," I answered. "No, stay in the office. I don't want you to get arrested. Believe me it's for your benefit. You're not going," he shot back.

Demo pictures here.

See also: The Egyptian Center for Women's Rights