The walls of the Egyptian High Court are adorned with a mishmash of revolutionary graffiti, many of it faces of incarcerated activists who’ve had marches calling for their release reach the High Court where the Public Prosecutor’s office is located. There is Amr El-Beheiry, Alaa Abdel-Fatah (both since released) and the still incarcerated Ahmed Douma. And last Friday on Egyptian women’s day (March 16) a new face was added to the wall, that of Samira Ibrahim.
Her image is now iconic in Egypt, the poster child of the infamous virginity tests, that inexplicable method of sexual assault that was conducted on seven female protesters in a military prison in March 2011. Samira was the first of the seven to speak out about being subjected to the tests and has launched a legal campaign against the military. Read more…
In the previous post “A battle much harder to win” there was a story of a lone protester braving about 200 counter-protesters during the women’s march in Tahrir March 8. To my great pleasure I ran into her the other night and she clarified the ending of the story for me. The army commander I saw walking towards the ruckus near the end did not break things up like I had thought. She didn’t see him at all. She had ducked under the circle that was formed around her and made a run across the road onto Mohamed Mahmoud. She told me that some of those who had chased her caught up with her but she managed to get into a cab and leave.
She was quite nonchalant about the whole incident, telling me that she’s used to this sort of thing. Many female friends I had told the story to had reacted in the same manner, asking me why I was so surprised and that these sorts of things were par for the course, which depressed me no end. Ideally things shouldn’t get to a point where women become so inured to public transgressions on their person due to its constant recurrence. Others told me that they had to brush these types of incidents off because if they didn’t, it would drive them round the bend because of their unerring regularity.
The protester, who is actually an urbane university professor, disagreed – quite rightly – with my attempts to appeal to the “chivalry” of the men standing around us in order to mitigate the expected attack when it came. She told me that this was not the “level of discourse” that should be taking place. I wholeheartedly agree; in essence it is wrong, and to resort to such a method is not only an indictment of the society we live in but also infers that a woman’s sole protection is by a man standing at her side. She also said that when the attack started, it was impossible for her to tell who was attacking her and who wasn’t.
And yet I’m still kind of glad that I did it, not only because it relatively worked, but also so I wouldn’t lose complete faith in everyone that was there that day.
Addendum: I’ve been granted permission to give out her name. She is Wafaa Wali, Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at AUC.
My brother was in a cab a few days after Egypt had got well rid of Mubarak and Sons. The cabbie told him that now that Egypt was entering a new era, the government should prohibit women from wearing tight clothes in public, and in general govern their behavior to make it/them “respectful” and demure. When I was told the story, I laughingly dismissed it as the ranting of your stereotypically head-in-the-clouds Cairo taxi-man. I was wrong.
Wrong, because on March 8 at Tahrir a women’s march was attacked by mobs, apparently sufficiently angered merely by their presence. I guess if you want to tell the world you’re a sexist pig that’s your prerogative, but to then attack women in Cairo’s main square – just for being women and having the temerity to be in the square – makes you a violent thug. That some of the anti-women protesters were themselves women makes it especially galling.
It is a prevailing attitude that seems to be taking root these days, with thugs again attacking protesters in Tahrir March 9 trying to forcibly remove them from the square. Being opposed to the protests leading you to try and end them with force shows that we’ve got a long way to go yet.
A lot of terrible things happened on March 8, making it the worst day since Mubarak was ousted. Attacks in Manshiyet Nasser against Christians which left at least 9 dead, attacks on protesters in Tahrir late that night and what happened earlier at the women’s march led many to suspect the murky handiwork of State Security, who had recently been backs to the wall as people demanded accountability for decades of cruelty, torture and a power so supreme they could make people disappear.
Yet if one is to be honest, those that went to oppose the women’s march seemed more like regular folk, not a delegation sent from the SS. They were a cross-section of people, young and old, men and women. Read more…