An Egyptian Man’s View of Sexual Harassment Past and Present

A BLOG POST BY AHMED KAMEL The euphoria accompanying the success of Egypt’s January 25th revolution was sullied by two high profile sexual harassment incidents of women. These examples could open the door to address this ugly and violent crime in Egypt. The first occurred on the day President Mubarak announced his resignation, February 11, 2011 when a large group of thugs kidnapped 60 Minutes reporter Lara Logan and subjected her to a violent sexual attack that lasted for about 25 minutes. Ms Logan was rescued by a number of Egyptian women who pushed off the attackers and summoned help from military personnel. Ms Logan suffered physical and psychological trauma. The violent incident stands as an embarrassing brutal crime inflicted on a courageous and skilled reporter who returned to Egypt to cover the last days of the Mubarak regime. The perpetrators were not apprehended but a few reports point to the attackers as being the thugs of the deposed regime who perceived that the foreign media had sided with the uprising against the Mubarak regime. Other attacks had occurred earlier on foreign reporters and one of those attacks, televised frequently on CNN, showed the reporter Anderson Cooper being beaten by government thugs. The second incident was less violent but just as hideous and occurred four weeks later, on March 10. Seventeen Egyptian women, arrested by the military police in the evening of March 9 for demonstrating in Tahrir square after curfew, were slapped, called names, and transported to a military camp prison. In the prison they were forced to strip naked, without privacy, and were subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” by male doctors. The military first denied the incident but upon insistence by the victims, and with support from Human Rights organizations, the military acknowledged that the tests were done, but only to defend against any potential allegations that the imprisoned women were raped while in custody of the military!

Both cases, different as they are, demonstrate an ugly face of violence against women in Egypt and a sign of “cultural” disrespect of women rights in their society. This is unfortunately not a new phenomenon or one that is associated with the chaos that happens during upheavals. In Cairo, on December 31, 1965, I watched in horror as a woman coming out of a hair salon in the early evening was groped by thugs preparing for a rowdy New Year’s Eve celebration. In 1971, it came much closer when my mother, in her early forties, almost got attacked in our home garage by a 17 year old “kid”. Because she screamed at the attacker and the doorman heard her screams the kid “received” what he deserved! But unfortunately my mother would not file charges because it was not the acceptable thing to do in a country like Egypt.

So sexual harassment against women is not new to Egypt though the number of rapes grew significantly in the last 10 years, as reported in Egypt’s media. It is assumed that the increase reflected the police distraction by its focus on protecting the regime instead of protecting the general public.

Bleak as the above details might indicate, I believe that the success of the January 25 revolution might offer a unique opportunity to address this ugly cultural disease of women sexual of harassment in Egypt. Egyptian women, in all segments of the society, have played and continue to play a significant role in the success of the revolution; this role was acknowledged and publicized in the domestic and international media. The revolution has brought in a very strong desire for dignity and respect by all segments of the society especially by females of all ages, education, social or economic strata. Therefore, this is an opportunity for females who contributed to the success of the revolution to demand and expect respect and protection from all types of harassment, sexual and other.

Within Egypt, I believe the circumstances are ripe to address the sexual harassment disease: A.    Progressive candidates for the Presidential elections such as Mr. Amr Moussa and Dr. Mohamed El Baradei are liberals who support women rights. B.    Progressive and liberal parties have supported women rights and include many women within their ranks. C.    Conservative Islamic parties, such as the Moslem Brotherhood, treat sexual harassment crimes very seriously and would punish perpetrators very harshly.

External support to address this ugly social disease can only help especially if approached with the right understanding and the desire to focus on the real causes of this disease. One of the mistakes that foreign organizations committed in the past was to address the harassment as a religious and not a cultural issue. Once the issue is approached on a religious base it creates an immediate resistance to implementing its solutions because Egyptians perceive (justly or unjustly) that the external support comes with a hidden agenda to attack Islam. Those who understand the nature of this ugly disease know that sexual harassment is a crime that afflicts all religions and most societies, to different degrees.

If sexual harassment of women in Egypt is at last tackled successfully to any extent then the terrible experiences of Lara Logan and the 17 young Egyptian women would have at least brought them a reasonable sense of justice.

The author is not an authority on the subject of sexual harassment to any extent but only an individual who feels that this is a social blight that has to be seriously and effectively addressed and he believes that the January 25 revolution might provide this opportunity to Egypt’s women.

Human Trafficking Screening in New York - July 28th

Trafficking in Persons Report Enters Second Decade