There had been an entry in my drafts box titled: “Samira Ibrahim – I dream of bigger victories”. In that post, I set out to examine and address why, of seven victims subjected to the forced so-called “virginity test” by military personnel in a detention facility, why of the seven victims, only one was able to stand up to SCAF, demand punishment for the perpetrator of this heinous crime, and to garner the necessary mainstream media attention. The resultant draft contained a number of observations and musings, reservations and hopes, which, albeit sparked by the case, I deemed to be rather generic on our society’s attitude towards women.
That draft, started around the time of the State Council Administrative Court verdict, was never really finalized or published, for petty reasons, really, that I will point out below. And now, after the acquittal of the accused “doctor” by a court-martial, it has been revived and expanded to present my personal angle on the issue. So before I get to that, first, here is a table of the case timeline containing necessary background information, links, and its key developments.
|Mar 09, 2011||Samira Ibrahim, among 174 protestors and demonstrators, 17 of which female, is arrested in Tahrir Square during a violent crackdown on and dispersal of a sit-in by army forces. The arrested are eventually transferred to a military detention facility.|
|Mar 10, 2011||Seven (earlier accounts and reports state ten) of the arrested women are (allegedly) forcibly subjected to so-called “virginity tests” by a male “doctor” as part of their physical examination in the military detention facility.|
|Mar 13, 2011||Release of some of the detainees after a military trial, in which many, including Samira Ibrahim, have received suspended jail terms for charges of assaulting authorities, taking part in an unsanctioned gathering, and breaking curfew.|
|Mar 16, 2011||Press conference to document first account of the forced “virginity test” by one of the female detainees (also of the violence and torture during detention), subsequent accounts of the same experience by other detainees start surfacing.|
|May 27, 2011||Gen. Ismail Attman, Head of the Morales Affairs and SCAF member, confirms to Shahira Amin in a phone interview for CNN website “virginity tests” as routine procedure to protect the military establishment against rape allegations.|
|May 31, 2011||CNN publishes article in which an unnamed Egypt general “admits ‘virginity tests’ conducted on protestors”.|
|Jun 06, 2011||Gen. Mohamed El-Assar, SCAF member, confirms to a Human Rights Watch delegation “virginity tests” as routine procedure to protect the military establishment against rape allegations.|
|Jun 13, 2011||Gen. Hassan El-Roweiny, Commander of Central Military Zone and SCAF member, confirms to a No-Military-Trials delegation “virginity tests” as routine procedure to protect the military establishment against rape allegations.|
|June 23, 2011||Samira Ibrahim lodges official complaint with the military prosecution.|
|Jun 26, 2011||Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, Head of Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance, confirms to an Amnesty International delegation “virginity tests” as routine procedure to protect the military establishment against rape allegations.|
|June 2011||Samira Ibrahim registers a case with the State Council Administrative Court to appeal the use of ‘virginity tests’ in all military facilities.
(color code for relevant entries in this table = blue)
|Jul 10, 2011||Deputy chief military prosecutor summons the military “doctor” on duty at the military prison – a serving member of the military, who denies that the invasive procedure had taken place.|
|Oct 25, 2011||State Council lawyer denies allegation and calls for the dismissal of the case based on lack of evidence.|
|Nov 9, 2011||Human Rights Watch calls military investigation into case “a sham”|
|Nov 29, 2011||State Council Administrative Court judge adjourns case and postpones ruling until December 27, 2011.|
|Dec 13, 2011||Military prosecutor accuses “doctor” of “Indecent Assault (هتك عرض) – a felony, the doctor is to be tried in court martial.
(color code for relevant entries in this table = green)
|Dec 18, 2011||Indictment formally issued stating doctor’s accusation as that of “Public Obscenity (فعل علنى مخل بالحياء) – a misdemeanor.|
|Dec 27, 2011||State Council Administrative Court condemns forced “virginity tests” as a humiliating procedure degrading towards women and orders practice to be stopped in military prisons.
Gen. Adel El-Mursy, Head of the Military Judiciary, states that ruling is not applicable since practice “never was part of the military prison code”.
|Jan 3, 2012||Start of trial of “doctor” accused of conducting “virginity tests” in front of court-martial.|
|Feb 7, 2012||Defendant’s witnesses (two female prison wardens) deny incident ever took place, testify detained women were only asked about their marital status and if they were pregnant.|
|Feb 13, 2012||Gen. Adel El-Mursy, Head of the Military Judiciary, issues a media gag order on the case proceedings.|
|Feb 26, 2012||Court hears prosecutor’s witnesses – three witnesses testify to the occasions listed above on which different SCAF members confirmed “virginity tests” as standard procedure in military prisons to protect military establishment against rape accusations, and another victim testifies to being subjected to the forced “virginity test” and identifies the accused doctor.
Prosecution also presents a letter by Amnesty International testifying to and corroborating meeting with Gen. El-Sisi and his admission of the virginity tests conduction.
Court refuses plaintiff motion to amend defendant’s charge from “Public Obscenity” to “Indecent Assault” as originally charged by prosecutor.
|Mar 11, 2012||Court acquits defendant on the grounds of:
1. conflicting testimonies by plaintiff’s witnesses (name of prison warden stated differently by Samira and another detainee and victim of the same crime – both identified the “doctor” as the one having administered the test)
2. denial such tests were carried out by four witnesses for the defendant
There are so many wrongs in this case, most of them already covered by many others, and each worthy of its own post – too many wrongs, all so grave and disturbing, very briefly:
1. The continuing trend of using sexual violence against women to deter them from political activism, or generally participation in their society and community, or to punish them for it. The “virginity test” to which the women were subjected can only be seen as a means to humiliate, shame, and subjugate them. Here is a very good analysis with important historic background information on the practice of such tests in Egypt, and how they are used as tools by the state to suppress its citizens.
2. The somewhat euphemistic use of the term “virginity test” (you will have noticed my inability to use this term without surrounding it with quotation marks): these women did not willingly undergo some sort of non-invasive medical test or examination, a male “doctor” (again, I am unable to refer to the perpetrator of the crime as such without the use of quotation marks), forcibly, without their consent, inserted his hand into the vagina of each victim to physically test the status of her hymen – this is not a “test” or “examination”, these women were physically violated, sexually penetrated against their will, this is rape!
3. The official justification repeated by four army generals and members of SCAF on four different occasions as outlined above for the conduction of these tests – “to protect the military establishment against potential rape allegations”. And my question is: how does ascertaining the virginity that way (in and by itself an act of sexual violence against the detainees amounting to rape) achieve that? And what of married women or women who are sexually active? Are these fair game to rapists? Do they lose their right not to be raped and to report and demand punishment and retribution for the violation of that right?
4. The official justification, apart from being logically flawed and aside from its implications on SCAF’s concept of violation and understanding of women’s and human rights, is an extension and perpetuation of society’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge and honor the rights of a woman without a moral judgment first to deem her worthy or not of her rights and dignity.
5. And last, the ultimate subversion of justice by SCAF in allowing the military to be juror to its own crime, be the judge as it is being accused; topped only by yesterday’s acquittal of the defendant and the flimsy grounds on which that was based.
‘The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,’ the general said. ‘These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).’ The virginity tests, he said, were carried out so that the women couldn’t claim afterward to have been harassed or raped in prison: ‘We wanted to show that they were not virgins in the first place.’
However, my original entry was mainly to address another “wrong” I’d perceived, perhaps more subtle or less visible, to some even not as important, but equally worthy of attention in my opinion.