So this post marks a very missed return for me to this blog. Like many Egyptians, I have been consumed with the current events in my country and the ongoing protest movements, in which I am more or less active. I have yet to learn not to let the graver, or more serious, events, actions, and thoughts take over the mundane.
A couple of weeks ago, I went through a trying experience while participating in a demonstration called for by many rights, women’s, and feminist groups to protest sexual harassment in Egypt, both circumstantial every-day occurrences of it and its systematic use by the state to intimidate female protestors and revolutionaries.
Today I was supposed to give a live testimony about the events that took place on June 8 in Tahrir as I witnessed and experienced them in an event organized by ElNadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Violence and Torture Victims, the event marks the launch of the annual report by the center documenting the state of violence and torture in Egypt and their work against it as well as the International Day for Support of Victims of Torture. Needless to say, I was as much scared about facing a live audience with my testimony (thinking about which and going through every thing I wanted to say on the issue was all I was able to do these past days) as I was determined about and looking forward to doing that.
Comically – well, as comic as buildings on fire can be – halfway through the event, and right before the segment on Sexual Harassment was to begin, the floor above us somehow caught fire (a small one really), we spent some ten minutes sniffing alarmingly thickening smoke before someone overcame their embarrassment to interrupt the speaker and then the alarms went off and the building was evacuated. So, the event was cut short of course, and I didn’t get to testify; part of me is relieved at that but I am disappointed I didn’t get to speak up about what happened, I am determined to do so.
Much like any active independent woman in my country – be it the wife that manages her household, the working woman pursuing her career, the female student working to get a degree – and despite certain luxuries that afford me a rather sheltered environment (I don’t use much public transportation because I have a car, I live in a safe neighborhood where the street is “home” and the neighbors keep to themselves, I have a supportive family that provided me with a healthy upbringing and stand behind and foster my independence), despite all that, I can say without a fear of exaggeration that, in general, there is hardly an aspect of my life and activity that is not one way or the other affected by various forms and degrees of harassment and a judgmental condescending view to active women by a largely patriarchal society, which you learn to confront and deal with. But I believe that these lamentable factors – patriarchy, the moral judgment of (active) women, have a direct relation to state practices.
Sexual violence has been instated as a weapon by the state to intimidate female activists since its use against female demonstrators protesting the 2005 constitutional amendments by National Democratic Party thugs on what became known as Black Wednesday in May 2005; and since the revolution, many forms of sexual violence have been used against female protestors, be it sexual harassment and molestation during crackdowns and detentions by the arresting state forces, or in a more institutionalized form as in what is notoriously known as the “Virginity Tests“.
What happened to me on June 8 went beyond a circumstantial or individual incident, it was a planned, organized assault to intimidate the woman protestors. Even before that day, I had heard about incidents of mass sexual abuse of women in Tahrir Square, and I never understood how these can take place in a public place like that without anyone intervening. The size and ferocity of the mob perpetrating these violations may lend some explanation, but the fact that these assaults happened, and continue to happen, without any vocal condemnation or outcry by society or hardly any coverage in the mainstream media is enraging, and disappointing, and painful. While it is easy to justify or explain this seeming indifference of society towards sexual violence against women by citing the above mentioned factors of traditional patriarchy and a skewed religious message that emphasizes moral judgment over morality and humanity, and while I do not deny or dismiss these factors, I do believe that the root cause lies in the state and its politics:
When the state takes it upon itself to physically check for the hymens of its female detainees (in and by itself a violation to their dignity and body and a sexual assault) as a standard routine procedure before it deems them worthy of their right not to be raped in prison, when the state presents the criminal record of Khaled Said and engages the public in discussions about his alleged drug habits or dealings before it deems him worthy of his right not be tortured and beaten to death during his arrest, then it is not surprising, almost expected really, that the society in this state will question “what was she doing in Tahrir when she knew about the risk of sexual assault?”, “what was she wearing?”, “was she moving inside or outside the protective chain?”, before it deems a sexual assault on a woman worthy of its outcry and rage and condemnation.
The state of oppression distorts the conscience and humanity of its society. The state of oppression breeds an oppressive society, a society that oppresses its minorities, its weak, its poor, its women. It is against this state that we are rising up, and we will not tire until we bring it down. Our revolution continues.