Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘‘virginity tests’

Should Army Chief calls on demonstration in a democratic system? Egypt’s General Abd Fatta7 Sisi
Egypt’s army chief, General Abd Fatta7 Sisi, has called on Egyptians to rally on Friday to mandate the army to confront violence and terrorism following the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
The  Moslem Brotherhoods called for demonstration on Thursday to preempt the Army demonstration.
Arwa Gaballa posted this July 24, 2013:
“I really fear what’s about to happen under this authorization to fight “terrorism”.
Before you get overly excited about your much-anticipated genocide and unfair prosecution of your political rivals, ask yourself these questions:
What terrorism?
So far the majority of protests organized by Mursi’s supporters have been quite peaceful.
There are the occasional violent confrontations here and there (with opponents or security forces), but I bet you were hoping that they would go on a complete rampage and burn down the country to have an excuse to call for their killing and return to prison.
But they didn’t do that.
We need justice and law: perpetrators of violence must be prosecuted, a national reconciliation that includes all factions must be reached and violence is not the answer even if it’ll wipe a group of people that you hate with passion from the face of the earth.
And yes, Islamists are humans too.
What about Sinai Peninsula though?
Things are messy in the “strategic” peninsula. I’d focus my efforts there if I were the army and actually serious about combating “terrorism”.
Okay, it was pretty kind of the army to oust Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood. Not because they are Islamists, but because the Mursi administration failed miserably to deliver on its promises.
But why can’t the police play that role of confronting post-Mursi violence?
The protesters are civilians and must be dealt with within the law. Yes, even if they are Islamists. Yes, I don’t care if they look messy and shout unpleasant things that make you scared.
Can we and do we trust the army?
Have we forgotten the unfair military trials? The arrests of children? Samira Ibrahim and virginity tests? Maspero? Port Said? Mohamed Mahmoud? The Cabinet clashes? The blue bra incident? Tantawi’s finger? Can you trust the army?
It seems to me that the army is kindly asking for a license to kill, which I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.
يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر يسقط يسقط حكم المرشد يسقط يسقط حسني مبارك عايزنها مدنية… عيش, حرية, عدالة اجتماعية

Sexual Violence in Egypt: Myths and Realities

In memory of Eman Mustafa.

Last September, 16 year-old Eman Mustafa was walking with a friend in the village of Arab Al Kablatin Assiut, when a man groped her breasts. She turned to face him and spat in his face. He shot her dead with an automatic rifle as a price for her bravery.

Mustafa’s death was an eye-opener call to those who claim that sexual violence is an urban issue. Thanks to human rights organizations and activist groups, Eman’s killer was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 2013.

Violence against women across historical, cultural, and national divides continues to be a socially accepted practice, if not a norm. In the realms of both policy and social awareness, we have collectively failed to tackle this issue with serious rigor. As a result, we seem to be witnessing an increase in sexual violence and brutality.

Mariam Kirollos posted on Jadaliyya this July 16, 2013:

In Egypt, sexual harassment is widespread and touches the lives of the majority of women whether on the streets, in public transportation, at the work place, the super market, or political protests. It is true that sexual harassment still lacks a unified definition, but it is not difficult to identify unwelcome verbal or physical sexual violation.

Many Egyptians, women included, are unclear as to what constitutes sexual harassment. Sadly, others do not think it is a problem. One thing is clear though, and that is the actions of the various governments of the last 30 years have been limited to statements of regret and unmet promises.

The word taharrush (harassment) is a relatively new term in the daily lexicon. Until recently, sexual harassment was referred to as mu‘aksa (flirtation). That term alone reveals the multiple layers of denial, misogyny, and violence Egyptians must confront in tackling sexual harassment.

In addition to rape and physical assault we must equally tackle name-calling, groping, and the barraging of women with sexual invitations. All of these acts normalize violence and hatred against women and they must become socially unacceptable.

Even though Eman Mustafa was a veiled villager, one key argument in the victim-blaming that is salient in our everyday narratives is the common and vulgar perception that sexual harassment occurs when women dress “provocatively.”  In fact, the only thing that Egyptians who face sexual harassment have in common is that over 99% of them are females.

Over the last decade, Egyptians have been working intensively on spreading both social and legal awareness on sexual violence and harassment.

In 2005, the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights launched its “Safe Streets for Everyone initiative to combat sexual harassment.

In 2008, more than 16 human rights organizations and independent groups formed the “Task Force Against Sexual Violence.”

In 2010, that Task Force released its own bill to amend Penal Code provisions on sexual violence. That year too, the volunteer-based initiative Harassmap established a free software method to receive anonymous SMS reporting that it would process into a mapping system. Harassmap’s mission was to render sexual harassment socially unacceptable.

Over the past two years, activists have formed many other independent movements and online groups that raise awareness, empower women to stand up against gender-based violence and speak out by sharing testimonies and ideas to combat sexual harassment, and in some cases, expose the perpetrators.

After Eman Mustafa’s death last September, anti-sexual harassment protests were held at Assiut University to condemn the murder of a girl who fought for her bodily rights.

Women who have suffered from sexual harassment are usually reluctant to tell their stories, fearing reprisals and the dreaded label of the agitators. Nevertheless, if there is any noticeable progress in fighting sexual harassment in Egypt, it would be the rise in the number of women who are speaking up about their experiences and filing reports against their offenders.

Another important development has been the formation of independent volunteer-based groups who fight sexual violence on the ground across the nation. In 2010, Harassmap received requests to expand their campaign to Alexandria, Daqahliya, and Minya.

This year, Harassmap has expanded to 16 governorates other than Cairo. With the help of more than 700 volunteers nationwide, Harassmap is reaching out to rural communities to end social acceptability of sexual harassment.

In June 2008, Noha al-Ostaz experienced a form of sexual violence on a Cairo street. She was confident that ignoring the behavior of the offender was ineffective. With the help of a friend and a bystander, Al-Ostaz managed to take the offender to a police station and file charges against him. Three months later, and for the first time in Egypt, the offender was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of sexual assault. Al-Ostaz paved the way for other women to stand up for their rights. Her action has encouraged several to pursue harassment charges against assailants.

Group Assaults

Group sexual assaults in public are not a recent phenomenon in Egypt.

Over the holiday festivities in 2006, following Ramadan, Egyptian bloggers reported cases of group sexual assault in downtown Cairo, where large groups of men groped veiled and unveiled women, and in some cases ripped their clothes off.

This crime continues to occur in public spaces, especially during public holidays, and lately during political protests. This type of sexual assault is even more violent and aggressive and entails unwanted sexual contact. In some cases it escalates to rape, which can be defined as the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vulva or anus with any body part or object without the consent of the survivor.

 Sexual Violence in Protests

The use of sexual violence as a political tool against women in protests dates back to 25 May 2005, also known as Black Wednesday. That day female protesters were targeted and sexually assaulted by plain-clothed policemen and NDP thugs in front of the press syndicate while protesting the constitutional amendments paving the way for Gamal Mubarak’s inheritance of the presidency.

The Public Prosecutor failed to pursue the case when it was reported to his office.

However the following year, 4 female journalists decided to file a complaint to the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights with the help of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. After almost 8 years of investigations, the commission issued the verdict blaming the Egyptian government for this incident. It called for financial compensation for the victims as well as for the prosecution to reopen investigations, which was a positive step for Egypt’s anti-sexual violence movement.

After the fall of Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011, successive governments have been complicit in sexual violence against female protesters. We can begin this trajectory with the “virginity tests” that the military conducted on 7 female protesters on 9 March 2011.

We can continue this trajectory until today. While I prefer sticking to the name sit al banat (the best of all girls), I am somehow thankful that the female protester who was savagely beaten by the military forces in December 2011 was clad in an abaya (robe). Her anonymity sheds light on the probable use of various forms of violence against any female protester, whether it is sponsored by the state, or covered by its complicity.

The wave of sexual violence cases reported to women’s rights organizations and anti-sexual harassment groups has significantly risen in the past thirteen months, especially during protests in the vicinity of Tahrir Square. Impunity still prevails.

On 1 February 2013, an Egyptian heroine by the name of Yasmine El Baramawy shared her horrific experience of group assault that took place on 23 November 2011 in Tahrir on television. “Whenever I see Mohammed Mahmoud Street, I hold my pants,” El Baramawy said. She became a symbol of strength and resistance to many women, not only in Egypt, but across the world. Her stance and her presence, at the 12 February 2013 global protest against “sexual terrorism in Egypt” continue to inspire women to carry on with their revolution, and fight marginalization.

On 25 January 2013, during large demonstrations in Tahrir marking the second anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH), a tireless activist group founded in November 2012 to intervene in cases of group sexual assault in large protests, which I am proud to have taken part in, documented 19 cases of group sexual assault, including one woman who was raped with a sharp object.

In March 2013, El Baramawy and 6 other women filed a joint complaint about their sexual assaults before the prosecution. “Prosecutors opened an investigation and took the women’s testimony in March, but the case is still under investigation and has not resulted in the identification or indictment of any attackers,” Human Rights Watch said 3 July 2013.

Even though there is a lack of confidence in the judiciary process, which is usually lengthy and the outcome is rarely just, some women insist on pursuing a law suit against their perpetrators for the purpose of not only legally, but socially criminalizing such acts.

In April 2013, Lyla El-Gueretly, who was verbally harassed and attacked when she confronted her harasser, decided to take her case forward regardless of all the obstacles. On 19 June, I joined El-Gueretly at Abdeen Court in Cairo where she was briefly questioned. The perpetrator had not shown up. A few hours later, her lawyer informed us that the offender, Ahmed Yousef 37 of age, was sentenced to 3 months in absentia. “Not bad for a start,” said El-Gueretly’s whose faith in the legal system was far from strong. This verdict was issued three days after Eman Mustafa’s killer was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In this sense than, women’s persistence to file reports is a form of uprising against the state and its failure to reform the judicial and security sectors.

The Government’s Response

The government’s response to such crimes has been devastating on many levels. On 11 February 2013, a member of the Shura Council’s human rights committee blamed women for their rape in Tahrir. Later in April, the same member and others in the committee condemned signing the UN declaration for combating and eliminating all forms of violence against women claiming that it is an apostasy.

Former president Morsi launched an initiative to “support the rights and liberties of Egyptian women” in March 2012. The campaign only had a few tangible outcomes. One of these yet to be realized outcomes is the establishment of a unit that deals with crimes of violence against women at the Ministry of Interior.

This unit is supposedly to be staffed by trained female police officers. Another—a  little too late—achievement was the draft law on eliminating all forms of violence against women that the National Council for Women (NCW) submitted in June 2013.

The former information minister was not invited to any of the sessions of the former’s president’s initiative. Instead of raising awareness on sexual harassment in Egypt, the former minister Salah Abdel Maksoud partook in his own sexual innuendos when questioned by women journalists: “come and I will show you where?”  he responded, which is an expression in colloquial Egyptian Arabic that bears sexual connotations, at two different occasions in April 2013.

Starting on 28 June, and until 7 July during the protests to oust former president Morsi, Nazra For Feminist Studies and OpAntiSH have documented a total of at least 186 cases ranging from group sexual harassment and assault, to the violent rape of at least three female protestors. While the documented patterns might hint at pre-planned assaults, eyewitnesses and volunteers have testified to bystanders’ spontaneous involvement.

Instead of investigating such crimes and holding the perpetrators accountable, the former presidency, and ruling party have exploited the number of cases to deface the opposition. Some in the opposition have also used these cases to accuse the presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood of the assaults.

Neither side has solid proof and both are instrumentalizing brutality. The Freedom and Justice Party did not limit itself to using the number of cases in its political bargaining. It went further still and blatantly violated basic media ethics by publishing the details of one survivor’s assault in print and online. Such ruthless use of women’s violated bodies as political battlefields is a repulsive pattern that we must refuse at all costs.

Intervention Groups in Tahrir

Volunteer-based groups such as Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, Tahrir Bodyguard, and the Anti-Sexual Harassment movement (Dodd al-Taharrush), consisting of courageous women and men from different age groups are attempting to secure protest spaces as safe spaces. They are carrying out the task that both the government and political forces have failed in. Without these groups, and the support of other organizations, it would have been nearly impossible to identify the estimated number of sexual assaults. Such groups also empower women and encourage their participation in the revolution by different means; they insist that  “history is herstory, too.”

Egypt’s Political Transition

Egypt’s interim government must take immediate action to confront sexual harassment.

In March 2011, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces amended the Penal Code provisions on sexual assault by toughening the penalties. Such a step is useless if accountability is rare. Even if the current government passes the NCW’s bill, laws will remain words on paper unless they are implemented. To guarantee their enactment, there is a need for radical reforms in the policing, judicial, educational, health, and media sectors. One essential and immediate step could be the installation of street lighting to enhance urban safety. Religious institutions should also approach the topic of sexual harassment with their congregations.

The marginalization and exclusion of women from the public and political spheres will only make matters worse. What we can hope for now is that the interim president will not limit the promotion of women’s rights to the appointment of a female advisor for women’s affairs and female ministers.

Women-only metro compartments will never protect women from sexual violence, and neither will a male-dominated social system.

The Role of Women

To sidestep tragedies such as Eman Mustafa’s case and to combat all gender based crimes, Egypt urgently needs an organized movement to struggle against the mechanisms of sexist, racist, classist, nationalist, and militarist ideologies that suppress women.

Violence against women is a product of gender inequality that promotes unequal gender roles and portrays women’s bodies as commodities. Given all of the ambiguities of the struggle in and for Egypt, an organized and independent women’s movement can only strengthen the struggle for democracy, equality, freedom, peace and justice.

Imagining Gender in Cairo Graffiti: Intimidation and Resistance

The issue of women’s empowerment continues to be of paramount significance in determining the future of the incomplete Arab revolutions.

Numerous scholars, activists, and feminists have commented with concern about the precarious position of women after the contagious revolutions, which started in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

Many have expressed anxiety that the controversial gender issue in the Middle East will dominate the coming years, as even Christian leaders transmit Islamists’ pressure on women to dress “more modestly” to their communities.

Others have remarked that misogynist attitudes are observable today across the post-revolutionary Arab States, because the Islamists in power have revealed themselves to be agents of an “Islamic neo-liberal” ideology that works hand in hand with constraining measures regarding women.

Observers have pointed to various shocking acts that all converge in one direction: the targeting of women’s bodies.

Mona Abaza posted on Jadaliyya this June 30, 2013: “Intimidation and Resistance: Imagining Gender in Cairene Graffiti”

Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker

[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]
[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]

The aged President Hosni Mubarak had long embodied the oppressive and institutionalized patriarchy in Egypt. After Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, an ageing military junta replaced him, and continued to use violence to subdue protest.

It was as if a targeted vengeance were being directed against Egypt’s youth, and as if the generational conflict between the old generals and the young protesters had to be played out through the mutilation of young bodies.

Today, almost a year since the election of Muslim Brotherhood figure President Mohamed Morsi, there is a general feeling that nothing has really changed in terms of citizens’ rights. None of the security officials responsible for the series of killings of protesters since January 2011 have been convicted. As this in turn sparks new demonstrations, the Brotherhood regime continues the use of thuggery and public violence, together with sexual harassment, to terrorize citizens and deter them from protest in Tahrir Square.

These policies, and the statements legitimizing them by military officials and Islamist politicians alike, have become the butt of jokes and biting comments in oppositional media. Among the most striking examples of this has been the graffiti art of young Egyptian activists across the country. The impertinence in their depictions of the authorities has become one of the most powerful ways of unmaking the system.

Indeed, many believe that the military junta had been defeated morally well before Morsi replaced it, thanks to the public ridicule of its violence in popular jokes and graffiti.


[“I want to kiss you”, graffiti outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 September 2012)]

Public Violence against Women’s Bodies: Egypt under SCAF Rule

Once the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took power in February 2011, sexual harassment became an obvious means of intimidating and publicly humiliating protesting and dissenting women. Sexual assault was used to deter foreign female journalists, as well as to tarnish the morally pristine image of Tahrir Square, which had been a famously harassment-free zone throughout its occupation in January and February 2011.

In March 2011, so-called “virginity tests” were undertaken on female protesters by military personnel. The army spokesmen justified this act by stating that it prevented them from being blamed for having “deflowered” young women protesters. One of the victims, Samira Ibrahim, filed a case against the army medic responsible. He was acquitted, like the majority of police officers implicated in the killings and injuries of thousands of protesters in January and February 2011.


[Samira Ibrahim, image on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2012)]


[Caption: “Girls and Boys are Equal”, Figuring Iconic actress Suad Hosny graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 9 March 2012)]

The discourse of the former regime, which continued after February 2011, sought to equate protesting women with prostitutes, for having left their place in the home and headed out to demonstrations. By this logic, they deserved to be raped. Similar reasoning led some Salafist preachers and a pro-Mubarak television presenter to call a female protester – and victim of police violence – a prostitute, because she appeared scantily clad after her ordeal. When she went to join anti-SCAF demonstrations near the Egyptian cabinet building on 17 December 2011, the unknown female protester had been wearing her veil, and was dressed in jeans and a black cloak (abaya).

The previous day, security forces had begun attacking protesters viciously, killing twelve, wounding hundreds, and dragging one body into a rubbish heap. That afternoon in Tahrir Square, several military policemen in riot gear violently dragged and beat up the veiled protester, leaving her blue bra exposed.


[Caption: “Blue Bra” graffiti, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 16 March 2013)]

Ironically, the blue bra turned into a symbol of national contestation against both the SCAF and the Salafists. On 20 December 2011, activists organized one of the most significant women’s demonstrations against SCAF policies, marching from Tahrir to Talaat Harb Squares, and attracting thousands. As such women’s protests and marches against the military multiplied, the “blue bra” remained an iconic symbol.

The protesters chanted for the end of military rule, and the slogan “Egyptian women are a red line” gained tremendous momentum. Soon, the city’s murals, and the cement walls, which the SCAF had erected after November’s protests in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, were filled with hundreds of blue bras.


[Caption: “Blue bra” assault, graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 28 September 2012)]

Just after the incident of the blue bra, painter Mohamed Abla produced a remarkable series of paintings, entitled Wolves, in which he drew the female protester being dragged by police forces with wolves’ heads. He exhibited the paintings in Abdin Square and marched, carrying them, through Tahrir Square with a group of artists.

Abla’s act was disseminated via his FB account, and protesters displayed photographs of his painting, similar to other graffiti on the blue bra, in public as a reminder that the incident would never be forgotten.


[Caption: SCAF erected wall in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 21 February 2012)]


[Caption: 6 October Bridge, Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 30 June 2012)]


[Caption: Graffiti painted during the Mohamed Mahmoud Street incidents of November 2012. The text conveys the message: “W for Women, We’ll Put Red Dresses on All of You”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 23 November 2012)]

Protesting Women: Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood

Today, under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, violent attacks have continued to be a regime tactic for frightening female demonstrators. One victim was a female who had been reporting clashes between Muslim Brotherhood members and opposition activists whom they prevented from entering Tahrir Square in October 2012. Late that night, a large horde of men attacked her.

Sexual assault escalated to peak in December 2012.

After Morsi’s unpopular constitutional declaration the previous month, young activists had set up a peaceful protest camp outside the presidential palace in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood sent armed supporters to attack the protesters on 5 December. The men set up their own torture chambers in collaboration with police, establishing a qualitatively new level of public violence.

There followed what appeared to be the systematic gang raping of women protesters in Tahrir Square, by large numbers of thugs who moved in organized groups to isolate and encircle their targets. Such gang rapes have recurred with regularity since, as if sexual molestation were becoming a repertoire designed to smear the Square.

Armed men had reportedly assaulted some twenty women in separate incidents over ten days in November 2012 alone – a tactic being used repeatedly by the regime to deter women demonstrators.

By February 2013, some members of the Islamist-dominated Shura Council were arguing that women who are victims of gang rape should be held accountable, as that they should not be demonstrating in Tahrir in the first place. This can only mean one thing: the regime is now legalizing crime.


[Caption: Graffiti by Mira Shehadeh, on SCAF wall in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 1 March 2013)]

[Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 1 March 2013)]

The tactic of humiliation through sexual molestation of women, young and old alike has precedence in Egypt. The most common explanations are that such behavior is the indirect outcome of sexual frustration, or of taboos and inhibitions born of religious sanctions and segregation. Another reason often cited is the unbearable economic hardship associated with the increasingly consumerist and unaffordable institution of marriage, in a society with some eight million unmarried men and women above the age of thirty-five, while premarital sex is taboo.

To my mind, these clichéd explanations remain simplistic. When the omnipotent authoritarian state that claims to be the spokesperson for Islamic morality, and constitutional defender of Islamic sharia, turns out to be the main perpetrator of sexual violence in the public sphere, then why would the “citizens” not follow the same violent path?

[Caption: “No to Sexual Assault”, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2011)]

[Caption: “Whatever is or is not revealed, my body is free, it is not to be humiliated”, graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11 September 2012)]

[Caption: Feminist graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 11September 2012)]

Black Wednesday, 25 May 2005, marks the date when protesting women were sexually harassed in public for the first time in Egypt’s modern history. These women had been demonstrating in front of the Journalists and Lawyers Syndicates against a constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed the succession of Mubarak’s son to the presidency. They suffered attacks by the paid thugs of the then ruling National Democratic Party. This incident was followed by a series of gang rapes all over the city of Cairo that targeted young women during the season of the religious festival in 2006, whether they were veiled or not.

[Caption: Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 2 November 2012)]

All the attacks on women since February 2011 have been nothing but a remake, a déjà vu, in which paid thugs of the previous regime reappear, while the army and police forces stand around as voyeurs, if not facilitators, responsible for this sexual harassment and countless other attacks on citizens.

[Caption: “Treat Me Like a Human Being”, graffiti on SCAF wall, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2013)]

Women in the Electoral Process and the Brotherhood in Parliament

The mesmerizing public visibility of women in Tahrir in January 2011 clashes powerfully with the near total invisibility of women in the parliament elected that November, and recently dissolved. Compared with Morocco and Tunisia, Egypt scores the lowest in women’s parliamentary representation, with only eight women having won in the elections, and two others appointed.[1] Among the reasons for this defeat, Hania Sholkamy cites a “state sponsored feminism” that imposed “an unpopular quota for women within corrupt electoral practices”.

[Caption: Painting by Alaa Awad. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 26 March 2012)]

[Caption: Painting by Hanna al-Degham. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 9 March 2012)]


[Caption: Na’ehat, mourning women, painting by Alaa Awad. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 21 February 2012)]


[Caption: Wassifat, ladies-in-waiting confronting the military, painting by Alaa Awad on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2012)]

The theme of Egypt’s short-lived post-revolutionary parliament’s sessions, from January to June 2012, was the Islamists’ alarming obsession with exercising control over women’s bodies, through their reactionary draft laws on gender. These included bills encouraging female circumcision, demanding the marriage age for women to be lowered to nine years old, and rejecting the khul‘ law that allows women to file for divorce.

[Caption: “Don’t categorize me”. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 13 September 2012)]

One of the most vocal proponents of these measures was a woman herself: Freedom and Justice Party Member of Parliament Azza al-Garf, who has advocated the annulment of the anti-harassment law, citing her belief that it is women who are to be held responsible for such incidents, as their light dressing provokes such lustful acts from men. Garf alarmed Egyptian feminist groups by also calling for the abolition of the khul‘ divorce law, as well as the non-recognition of the offspring of illicit relationships, and the annulment of the recent law granting Egyptian nationality to the children of foreign fathers.

Furthermore, Garf wanted to acknowledge the right of the husband to have sexual intercourse with his wife by force if she refused him, and to forbid women from traveling without their husbands (in order to enforce a requirement that they obtain their husbands’ permission to travel). She also wished to cancel the law stipulating that the first wife be informed about her husband’s second marriage, and to cancel the law that guarantees the divorced wife access to any housing which she acquired as private property.

Garf publicly supports “female circumcision”, or rather female genital mutilation – a practice that was banned in 2007 after years of feminist campaigning in Egypt. She calls it a form of “beautifying plastic surgery”. How then does she differ from the Salafists, who feel threatened by women in the public sphere, and advocate the banning of women from political life (which would expel Garf from parliament)? The Salafists’ demands include removing the age limit on marriage, legalizing marriage from puberty, and the stoning of the adulterers – all constituting a direct attack on women’s freedoms.


[Caption: figuring iconic actresses Nadia Lutfi and Suad Hosny “There is no such thing as ‘exclusively for men’” (Referring to the famous film Lil rigal faqat, For Men Only). Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 March 2012)]


[Caption: SCAF wall, Mohamed Mahmoud Street, off Tahrir Square, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 16 March 2013)]

How can women fail to be alarmed when the Muslim Brotherhood, as part of its community work for the marginalized and poor, as Mariz Tadros observed, sends “mobile health clinics” to Upper Egypt to offer the “service” of female circumcision? Even though the Brotherhood has denied this, researchers and activists  confirm that a flyer distributed by the Brotherhood in the village of Abu Aziz in Minya did indeed advertise the service. These mobile clinics are making their rounds while the health system is in a state of collapse.

Unfinished Revolution

This article remains unfinished, much like the Egyptian revolution. It is unfinished because many in Egypt feel that Islamists hijacked their revolution with the help of the army. There is therefore no conclusion to speak of yet, while the pace at which the graffiti multiplies is exhilarating, far exceeding attempts to erase it. Since Morsi became president, the Islamists have tried to conquer the walls and produce their own graffiti, covering that of their opponents, but theirs is devoid of humor, and without effect.

Meanwhile, Egyptians nationwide have been preparing for mass protests against Mohamed Morsi on 30 June, having declared their lack of confidence in his presidency through the Tamarod (“Rebellion”) petition campaign. Egypt’s streets remain vibrant through protests and public performances, and street art is a barometer of this contestation and resistance, its visual narratives having revealed a powerful assertion of gender claims. This innovative, humorous, and thought-provoking iconography teaches us that there is no turning back. Egypt’s youth subcultures will continue to protest, and to wage their war on an ageing patriarchal regime through the lightness of being of art and laughter.


[Caption: Graffiti by Kaizer, outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 12 September 2012)]


[Caption: Graffiti by Kaizer, outside the al-Ahly Club in Zamalek, Cairo. Photo by Mona Abaza (Captured 8 June 2012)]

NoteAndrew Bossone had this comment:
Some people wonder how any reasonable Egyptian could support the military after all it’s done. I saw an answer yesterday morning.
An old lady with a cane wanted to pass through a roadblock of barbed wire. A soldier descended from the tank and placed two wooden planks on top of a section of barbed wire. The soldier got down on one knee and held the planks in place as the old lady walked across them while holding the hand of her son (I didn’t take a picture).
In Egypt military conscription is mandatory, which means that just about every family has a member who has served in the military (with exceptions such as those in privileged class and those who have only one son).
In other words, many people don’t see the military as some abstract entity, but an organization with which they have personal ties or into which they were indoctrinated. It is quite difficult–particularly when talking about a total institution such as the military–to separate the soldiers as individuals from the military as a whole.
I’ve seen the same phenomena in the States, where people don’t accept criticism of the military. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s understandable.

[1] According to Hania Sholkamy, women represent 17%  in the Moroccan parliament, even after the electoral success of the religious parties, while women reached 28% of seats in Tunisia. By contrast, Egypt scored only 2 percent.

Tunisia’s Topless jihad’ activist: Amina Tyler

After months of reportedly going into hiding, the outspoken Tunisian feminist who sparked a trend of “topless jihad” has been found and arrested by Tunisian authorities earlier this week.  Amina Tyler, Tunisia’s ‘topless jihad’ activist, may be charged for conducting “provocative acts.”

Amina Tyler, 19, was found in the midst of police scuffles with hardline Salafist group Ansar al-Shariah in the central Tunisian city of Kairouan on Sunday.

Tyler previously described herself as a member of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen, which uses nudity in protests.

Al Arabiya with The Associated Press posted this may 21, 2013:

Witnesses saidAmina allegedly scrawled “Femen” on the wall near the main mosque and may have intended to hang a banner on the building before an angry crowd gathered and started shouting at her to leave, according to The Associated Press.

Amina Tyler, 19, was found in the midst of police scuffles with hardline Salafist group Ansar al-Shariah. (Photo via Femen France on Facebook)

Video posted by the Tunisian online Nawaat news site shows Tyler, with dyed blonde hair, clutching a banner and being hustled away by police and put into a van as residents chased her.

A local resident shouts at the camera: “She is dishonoring us. We will protect our town. A dirty girl like her shouldn’t come among us.

Mohammed Ali Aroui, the spokesman for the Tunisian interior ministry, described Amina’s acts as provocative and said she was under investigation and may be charged for her behavior on Sunday. He added that he understood the angry reaction of local residents to her appearance.

The ministry had banned Ansar al-Shariah’s annual conference, citing it as a threat to security and public order, and sent 11,000 soldiers and police to prevent hardline Muslims, known as salafis, from entering Kairouan.

In March, Tyler posted pictures of her topless body with the phrase “my body is my own” scrawled on it. She went into hiding after receiving death threats. Her family took her to stay with relatives outside the capital before she escaped and hid with friends.

A month later, Tyler had been trying to leave Tunisia, her former lawyer said after a video surfaced in which the woman recounted being drugged and given virginity tests by relatives.

“Free Amina” rallies held by bare-breasted Femen activists hit Paris last month as Tyler’s supporters feared she would soon face criminal prosecution.

(Tunisia is currently battling the armed factions of the salafi Wahhabi extremists linked to Al Qaeda ideology who fled from north Mali after the French counteroffensive 5 months ago).

Note 1: A couple of years ago, the 18 year-old Egyptian Aliaa posted her naked body on the internet. She is currently residing in Sweden and continuing her education in movies. She posed naked in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Paris with two other Femen activists .

Note 2: The battle lines are now drawn between the 3 Sunni sects( under the Moslem Brotherhood umbrella) and the Wahhabi Sunni extremists who are funded and supported by the absolute Saudi Monarchy. The Sunni sects in each Arabic country are characterized as a main national identity of the State, such as the “Arabic” north African States, the Nile River States (Egypt, Sudan and Libya) and the Shaam States (Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon)

Why Do They Hate Us (Women)? And Counterpoints

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman unmoved by sex with her husband.   As he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.”

Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony.

She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap.

Taking the coffee to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor.  Rifaat writes: “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was.”

MONA ELTAHAWY published in Foreign Policy issue of MAY/JUNE 2012Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East”, and Sara Mourad replied in Jadaliyya.

If the two articles feel lengthy, do tell me: I can separate the main themes in the point and counter point and post more than one article on the topic.

Mona EL-TAHAWY wrote :”In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Alifa Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugar-coating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because the males hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring?

But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

Yes, women all over the world have problems;

Yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and

Yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them).

That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend.

When more than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme.

When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, this is no time for silence.

When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.”

What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015.

So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer”  — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders.

You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy.

King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

SO WHY DO THEY HATE US? Sex, or more precisely hymens, explains much.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl pee on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijab. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.


First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests“; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

The counterpoint is delivered by Sara Mourad

Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker
[Two migrant domestic workers, not allowed a day-off on Sunday, wave to the parade from their employer’s balcony during Migrant Workers May Day Parade in Beirut on 29 April 2012. Image by Hisham Ashkar]
[Two migrant domestic workers, not allowed a day-off on Sunday, wave to the parade from their employer’s balcony during Migrant Workers May Day Parade in Beirut on 29 April 2012. Image by Hisham Ashkar]

What baffles me most about Mona Eltahawy’s Foreign Policy article is that it does not accomplish the task it sets out for itself.  It does not answer the foundation question: Why do they hate us?

Instead of focusing on the why, identifying the structural reasons behind sexism and misogyny in the Arab world, Eltahaway provides illustrative evidence of the oppressions Arab women face.  The list is by now all too familiar both in the West and in the Arab world. The images of a naked woman’s flawless body covered in a niqab of black paint, spread throughout the article (and on the Foreign Policy special sex issue cover) is only a bitter reminder of the resilience of a clichéd fetish of the oppressed Muslim/Arab female body in the media, as pointed out by Seikaly and Mikdashi.

Eltahawy’s description, it is not an analysis, disappoints many Arab, Muslim, and non-Western feminists because it thrives on cultural essentialism: They, Arab men, hate us because this is how our culture is, because something is inherently wrong about the culture itself that they have created.

Instead of moving the discussion beyond essentialist claims—the sort that Christian fundamentalists, racist Islamophobes, neoconservatives, LePen supporters in France, and Rick Santorum, to name a few propagate—Eltahawy  as a native speaker and herself a victim of Arab misogyny, provides fodder for such misconstrued claims that Arab feminists have been desperately trying to deconstruct.

The disappointment lies not in the fact that Eltahawy made us look bad in public—as she claimed in a television appearance on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry show—but in the failure to perform the very task her article title promised: Providing an answer.

The result is a tautological piece, that starts with the conclusion and misidentified the who and the what of that hate.

To be sure, the answers to such a complex question cannot be provided in one article. However, Eltahawy’s intervention could have benefited from much-needed constructive deconstruction.

For instance, she finds no problem collapsing her diverse oppressed subjects into one category: Arab women.

The first problem with such a category is that it screens away the different—nationally-specific—types of oppression that these women face. As a Lebanese woman, I feel hated by the secular state and its civil laws that deny me the right to give my nationality to my hypothetical children. As a Muslim woman living in the United States, I feel hated whenever I am subjected to screenings and secondary inspections during my travels. As a Sunni woman I feel hated by the religious establishment that does not grant me an equal right of inheritance as my brother. As a young Arab woman, I feel hated by society—with its men and women—when I refuse to adhere and subscribe to certain values that I find outdated. As a woman from the middle-class, I feel hated by my government that enacts neoliberal economic policies that are making the prospects of one day renting my own apartment in the city nearly impossible.

Oppression is always multilayered. It is exercised by different jurisdictions, institutions, and discourses—from the secular to the religious, from the local to the transnational, from the private to the public, from the social to the economic. This is what makes the hate so difficult to locate.

This is what makes our predicament that more complex: we are waging daily struggles against a system that oppresses us in different spaces and multiple ways. And here I concur with Eltahawy, we have yet to remove the Mubarak in our head and in our bedrooms.

But it is a deeply troubling and dangerous mistake to identify the Arab man—and the Muslim Arab man at that—as our sole enemy.

Here is another question that may help us provide better answers: What happens when, instead of using “Arab women,” we refer to “women in the Arab world” as an object of study?

The plights of migrant domestic workers in the Arab world—from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon—have recently found their way into public discourse. Thanks to activists and grassroots movements and initiatives, the current racist and deeply flawed sponsorship system regulating the work of migrant workers from South Asia and different parts of Africa has been subjected to public scrutiny and criticism.

The most vulnerable segment of the already exploited class of migrant workers is the domestic worker who, of course, is a woman—a woman of color in deeply racist societies. What is both disturbing—and useful—in the case of the migrant domestic worker is that her oppression brings forth new culprits: Arab women themselves.

As the managing head of the household, the boss, the Arab woman, the madame, is often the one who holds the key to the misery of these vulnerable women whose labor within the domestic sphere makes their plight invisible and much harder to regulate.

Eltahawy urges the West not to fall prey to cultural relativism when formulating their foreign policies vis-à-vis Arab States: These laws and cultural norms oppressing women were not made by women! But…of course they are! And yes, women can also be oppressors!

This is where gender, as a category of analysis, hits its theoretical and practical limit. When we deploy gender as a man-woman binary (indeed, a very modern construction), we fail to account for the diversities within each supposedly uniform gender role.

Instead of pitting man against woman, gender can be deployed to pit young woman against older woman, and nuances in the politics of gender oppression will ensue. [1] Indeed, as women of all ages and classes we are subjected to similar forms of oppression; but as I have attempted to show in my previous examples, our identities are themselves so stratified: to prioritize gender (and a binary formulation of gender at that) above all other categories of affinity—class, race, education, age, sexual orientation—is misleading at best and dangerous at worst.

It pits us against others whom we have much more in common with, both in terms of our oppressions and our aspirations. It creates antagonisms where potential alliances could be forged. But it also, whether Eltahawy admits it or not, distinguishes us as a category that needs to be saved from the barbaric men of our societies.

Eltahawy rehearses the same imperial refrain that our enemy is always from within, never from without. Although she hints at the supportive role played by the United States in sustaining authoritarian regimes, she fails to openly recognize that its violence too is gendered and sexualized.

Footage from Abu Ghraib is too recent, too fresh in our memories to be forgotten. [2] Only when we juxtapose the sexual torture in Abu Ghraib and the virginity tests of Tahrir Square do we get the full picture of the workings of power today, where militarized authorities serving global capital are aligned in their oppression of Arab bodies, blurring the gendered binary of us and them and the unidirectional vector of women oppression it presupposes.

Postcolonial feminism have worked tirelessly to highlight the complexities of identities and resistance. Let us not undo all the blood, sweat, and tears with a comfortable yet taxing regression to a binary mode of thinking.

Foreign policies, exclusionary domestic politics, racist immigration laws, and wars have been formulated and launched “at the tip of the clitoris,” to borrow Elizabeth Povinelli’s expression. [3] This is the preferred site where anxieties about national identity and cultural diversity are played out; this is where Eltahawy drives her argument of hate home.

Povinelli shows that in the mid to late 1990s, debates on “genital mutilation” and clitoridectomy abounded in the Western European and American public spheres that were increasingly dealing with the presence of ethnic others. Outlawing these practices as barbaric made it possible to exclude the uncivilized other while producing the fantasy of a national civilized collective will.

In the United States, the urgency that an Illinois legislature expressed around the issue in 1997, “which suggested that the Midwest was in the grip of a clitoridectomy epidemic, was perhaps rather more motivated by their anxiety that urban areas like Chicago were haunted by the Black Muslim movement.” [4] This is not to suggest that genital mutilation and other cultural practices should not be subjected to scrutiny, nor to accuse, as some did, Eltahawy of merely performing for a Western audience.

These are discussions we should necessarily be having, in both local and international public fora. However, holding up the clipped bundle of nerves to public scrutiny is not an answer. It is only when we start looking beneath the nerve endings to identify the roots and layers of our multiple oppressions that we can begin to ask the right questions; and the best answers, to be sure, lie beneath the tip of the clitoris.

Black Box of Egypt Military and Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF): A pattern of abuse?

A few examples of what demonstrate the “unhinged” state of  Egypt Supreme Council of Armed Forces:

1. The young Egyptian woman wore a traditional headscarf and shawl, known as an “abaya,” and stood off to the side of the protests before she was knocked down by Egyptian military police. Then she was beaten with batons, stripped to her bra, dragged through the street and stomped by one soldier.  The image was circulated on social platforms and has become iconic in Egypt’s continuing revolution.

Captured on video December 17 and broadcast around the world, the attack on this anonymous woman, known simply as “the girl in the blue bra,” has enraged young Egyptian protesters on the streets, offended old-guard loyalists to the regime and galvanized the international human rights community.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “shocking.” (What Hillary did to stamp out these recurring behaviors?)

2.  Last week, the military raided the offices of Western non-governmental organizations in a campaign to crack down on what the ruling military body repeatedly refers to as the “hidden hands” behind the pro-democracy movement.  The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion in annual military assistance from the United States.

3. In November, just days before the first of a three-phase vote for the lower house of parliament, in the first elections since the fall of Mubarak, the military shocked voters by trying to push through constitutional provisions that would have made the military unaccountable to civilian government.  One specific proposal would have shielded the military’s secretive budget and its economic interests from parliamentary scrutiny.

That triggered the protest movement, with the full weight of the Muslim Brotherhood behind it, to hold a massive rally in Tahrir Square on November 19. And that’s when the military showed it was willing to exert all of its force to protect its interests.  The military killed 40 people in six days of clashes around the country and severely injuring thousands and sending hundreds to military courts.

4. In April, the military began mass arrests of protesters. In less than a single year, the military has put some 13,000 civilians before military tribunals.  Human rights investigators say the charges are trumped up:  Long sentences and little to no opportunity for appeal.

5. In round up, female protesters were detained and administered so-called ‘virginity tests’ by uniformed male officers.   Samira Ibrahim filed an administrative case claiming the procedure was tantamount to rape. Last week, the Egyptian courts challenged to the military and heard the case and ordered the military to put an end to the practice of ‘virginity tests.’

6. In October,  25 Christian protesters were killed for demonstrating at Maspero, the national television building. The protests were against what the Coptic Christian minority widely perceive as government indifference to attacks on Christians, and specifically over the failure for anyone to be held accountable for the burning of a church. This mass killing was followed by the November demonstrations in Tahrir in which the military “allegedly” killed 40 people over six days and left hundreds wounded.

In mid-December, violence flared again when the military moved in to put down a relatively peaceful sit-in in front of a set of government buildings just off Tahrir Square. Demonstrators there were protesting the steady rise in heavy-handed tactics. In this crackdown the military reportedly killed 13 more people.

Charles M. Sennott of GlobalPost “ witnessed men in uniform on the roof of a parliament building hurling concrete blocks and Molotov cocktails down on civilian protesters in what seemed an extraordinary breakdown of military discipline. Some soldiers made lewd gestures, and one image captured a man in uniform urinating on the protesters from the rooftop.

Is Egyptian military acting out of control?  Hossam Bahgat, executive director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, said: “Egypt’s military is becoming the enemy of our revolution.”

Critics say the military is panicking as an emerging civilian democracy poses a threat to its power and to the military hierarchy’s vast economic holdings.  Amr Hamzawy, an outspoken political analyst and a member of the country’s secular elite who recently won a seat in the new parliament, says:  “it is time to unravel the vast economic power the military wields and make it more accountable.”

Hossam Bahgat said:  “We always knew that the military has stakes to protect, that they will not happily espouse the proposal of moving from 100 percent of power in 60 years to zero. We knew they’d want to protect veto power over national security decisions, protect their military budget, funding from the US… But we never expected them to engage in this bloodshed.”

Bahgat explained:  “The damage that is caused will be lasting. It’s going to haunt the army for many years to come. Egypt’s military is becoming the enemy of our revolution. Just like Mubarak was — another hurdle in our road to democracy and justice. The military officers are going to do everything to resist meaningful civilian oversight. They are panicking about this. This panic is causing them to create one crime after another. And their ability to protect their interests is diminishing the longer they stay in power.”

Ambassador in Washington for a decade until 2008, Nabih Fahmy, dean of a new center for global affairs at the American University of Cairo,  said: “I think the military must be extremely disappointed and extremely worried by it,” he said, referring to the image of the young woman being beaten and dragged through the streets. “It left a severe tarnish on the reputation and you saw that in the attempts to clarify what happened in a press conference. The power of the images of even just one person being brutalized is truly devastating. I think there was some excessive force; there is no question about that… And I think no matter what explanation the military offers or who is right and who is wrong, the main point is that we all lost in this.

“The lessons one can draw from that is that the military should not, medium or long term, play the role of the police. That’s not their function… I am not in any way justifying what has happened and will not. But this is not the kind of theatre they are used to. That’s where you see the discipline breaking down,” said Fahmy.

How American power comes into play?

Human rights activists say they can hardly keep up with the civilian complaints about the tide of violence by the military, and the steadily rising death toll it is producing.  Frustration is mounting that the U.S. seems unwilling to exert its considerable influence over the military to put an end to the violence. And for serious reasons:

1. The U.S. has unparalleled access to our army generals. They have spent years receiving training, going on trips. They have a strong rapport with the U.S. military leaders.

2. The U.S has much at stake in its relationship with the Egyptian military: a key ally in a region where the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ has awakened forces for change. The U.S. is a “guarantor” of the 1979 Camp David accord between Israel and Egypt, which is seen by the U.S. as a pillar of regional stability. (Since when US written guarantees have been applied, except when closely related to its interests?)

3. Egypt’s 350,000 strong military has everything at stake in a new Egypt, most pointedly its $1.3 billion in annual assistance from the United States and the sprawling economic enterprise it helps to support.

4. Hamzawy, a newly elected parliamentarian, estimates the military may control up to 30 percent of Egypt’s $180 billion economy.  Mohamed Kadry Said, a retired major general and long-time military analyst for the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, put the figure at an estimated 8 percent of GDP. Western diplomats in Cairo say a safe guess is somewhere in the middle of these estimates.

“Perhaps the U.S. realized that this leverage they have is not infinite. They are going to use this leverage wisely on the things that matter to them most. And those are the same things that they prioritized under Mubarak: regional stability, peace with Israel. Unfortunately, we see the U.S. as hostage to this old notion of stability, this idea that brutality is fine as long as it doesn’t upset stability. They seem to fail to realize that it is through violence that the preconditions of instability are established”.

Egypt military economic empire

A  glimpse of the military economic might emerged last week when the government-run media reported that the military had provided $1 billion to the Egyptian government’s central bank to help prop up its faltering currency. How many militaries in the world have revenue that provides capital which exceeds the government’s own coffers? Current and former American and Egyptian government officials all say that the military and its full economic portfolio are very much a “black box”.

GlobalPost has interviewed more than a dozen officials, including retired Egyptian generals as well as former and current diplomats and military attaches, and tried to get a baseline of the Egyptian military’s reach. Here’s what these officials confirm:

The military owns huge tracts of land around Cairo where opulent residential developments are built and officers are given housing. In New Cairo, there is a new national sports stadium being built by the Air Force. The military controls bakeries, farmland and industrial factories that make everything from tanks to toasters as well as hospitals and the toll roads to the highly profitable port of Suez. The economic empire is present at just about every turn in a country where they openly hold claim to gas stations, hotels, shopping complexes and even their own chain of supermarkets.

One of those critics is Mohammed Okasha, who lives in a modest apartment in Cairo and has written several books on the history of the military. He gets by on a military pension that gives him a middle class lifestyle for which he says he is grateful.

A decorated bomber pilot who led raids in the 1967 Six Day War and again in the 1973 conflict with Israel, which in Egypt is commemorated as the ‘October 6’ victory. The retired general was so proud of the military supporting the youth in Tahrir Square that he painted his own banner and marched to the square just a few days after the protests began on January 25.

The banner read, “The fighters of October 6 stand with the fighters of January 25.”

Okasha said he has always been proud of his military background even if he was not so proud of fellow officers enriching themselves through perks which he says eventually became outright greed. Now Okasha says he is increasingly ashamed of the military. He watched in disbelief in recent months as the army descended into violence and brutality and showed the “true face,” as he puts it, of the old regime.

“Of course, they don’t want to give up this power that they enforce with their military equipment. This power comes with other facilities and other profits. … It’s a cash flow for the businesses owned by the military,” says Okasha.

“They will never give it up with out a fight,” he adds.

Former Ambassador Fahmy is more confident that the military will ultimately live up to its promise to relinquish power in six months when a new president takes office. But he concedes that this transfer of authority will mean many challenges for the military as it will struggle to live up to a new and more democratic system of transparency and accountability.

“I think that people actually want to believe in their military … But this will require moving to civilian rule quickly and requires putting together a system based on four basic principles,” he said, listing them as “transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and finally competitiveness.”

These principles of governance will be a direct challenge to the military’s vast economic reach. And undoing the military’s hold on so much economic power may in the end of the day be needed for the much-needed modernization of Egypt’s struggling economy. Right now Egypt’s economic growth is at a precarious zero percent. That is particularly ominous in a country with a surging population that needs to produce 175,000 new jobs every year just to maintain its already very high level of unemployment, particularly for youth.

Several high-level Egyptian and Western officials point out that the military’s economic empire – combined with the vast corruption throughout the regime – has been holding Egypt back economically for decades. So more transparency and better governance over the military may, these officials say, actually be a key to Egypt’s peaceful transition to democracy.” End of report

Note: Charles M. Sennott is GlobalPost’s Executive Editor and co-founder. His reporting in Egypt is part of a ‘Special Report’ titled “The Army, The People …,” which  is examining the role of the military in Egypt’s continuing revolution.




May 2023

Blog Stats

  • 1,521,867 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by

Join 769 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: