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Since the fall of the former President of Egypt, Sexual Harassment has been rampant like a forest fire throughout the country. Horror story upon horror story of attacks and incidents on women have been surfacing and making headlines. It’s getting worse and worse with each day that passes. Since Egypt’s first Democratically Elected President had been announced another serving of worry has been served up on to our plate.
The President as many are all well aware is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a lot of the élite, liberals and women quaking in their boots worried about Egypt’s future on many fronts and their place in the new Democratic Egypt. There is a vast majority on the other hand who find that our President previous association gives them the carte blanche to do as they please, when it comes to educating the public on what is right or wrong in the name of Islam. Sometimes I feel like things are looking more and more like a Mad Max movie.
Self-appointed groups and individuals feel they now have the right to tell people what to do, how to dress and how to behave. A couple of weeks ago there were two incidents in different places in Egypt that sent a ripple of fear and dread through the country. The phrase we are turning into the next Saudi Arabia or Iran was on the tip of everyone’s lips.
(If things don’t change and social order isn’t put in place, then I will have to agree)
In Suez an engineering student was badgered by 3 bearded men, who demanded to know his relationship with the woman he was walking with. When he told them to mind their own business they stabbed him. The stab wound was fatal. The woman was his fiancée.
Story has it that the men were caught and will be given the death penalty.
Another story was that a young man was playing his guitar during the call for prayer in the governorate of Ismaleya and others found this to be a sign of disrespect and took it upon themselves to teach him a lesson. The lesson rumor has it resulted in a severe beating which lead to his death. It was also reported that a group of bearded men went into a café in Cairo’s, Madinat Nasr area and told the customers that they should go and pray. Unfortunately I cannot confirm these stories to be 100% accurate, but having lived in Egypt so long, when there is a story there is always some element of truth to it.
I can confirm two others stories from women that I know personally and experienced some very disturbing events that worry me and honestly have me concerned for the future wellbeing of Egyptian women.
The first story is of a woman who works at a hair and beauty salon in Alexandria. She is a single Mom of a 4-year-old girl. She said she was walking in a district of Alexandria holding her daughter when a car drove by. One of the passengers in the car sprayed her with an acid like substance that ate through her clothes. It made huge holes in her dress which caused her undergarments to show. Embarrassed, scared and shaken she got into a taxi to go home. The reason for the passenger spraying her was because part of her leg was showing in the dress that she was wearing.
The second woman I work with and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed me to write this post. Yesterday she posted a warning to all her contacts on her Facebook page, so that we would all be made aware of what may happen if women decide to take a public mode of transportation. My colleague along with her brother, sister and future brother-in-law were boarding the car at Sadat Metro Station (El Tahrir) and just as the doors were closing a guy pulled her by her hair. She said she didn’t hear the full sentence of what he said but it had something to do with her not being veiled. This is NOT the first time she has experienced something like this.
Over the past 20 years since I moved here with my family, I have seen the country grow more and more conservative. It wasn’t very noticeable at first. It was rare to see veiled women, now you are most likely to see veils and niqabs than a woman with her head uncovered in Alexandria. I have no qualms with people becoming devoted in their beliefs and dressing in the way that they think is modest or more appropriate. What I DO have and issue with is other people, particularly strangers who don’t know me and demand or try to dictate to me how I should be more respectful and how I should dress.
I know that one of Morsi’s spokes people came out and condemned the actions of these individuals but I’m sorry that isn’t good enough for me. If the President himself doesn’t come out and say that he will not tolerate and accept these actions of harassment on people’s personal liberties and that people will be held accountable and punished for them, then he might as well have a pom pom in each hand cheering them on. His silence is a sign of condoning of what has happened and what will continue to happen. (That’s how I am interpreting it)
If President Morsi meant what he said in his speeches that we are free to live our lives as we have in the past, then I think he needs to not only say it repeatedly until it gets through people’s heads but to show that he sincerely means what he says. Otherwise these self-appointed groups and individuals will continue to badger, harass and attack innocent people who are minding their business and just going about their day-to-day lives and it isn’t right!
I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, where the Mutawaa’s (religious police) would patrol the streets and make sure that people were abiding by the country’s code of conduct. IF this IS the direction that our new Elected President is going to guide Egypt towards then, I fear all hope is lost for Egypt. If Egypt sccumbs to becoming a country with blinkers on and where people are no longer permitted to be themselves and live freely, then we will be pushed back decades behind the rest of the world and that in all honesty would be DREADFUL. Egypt for centuries has always been a land that made history and has been (and continues to be), studied with fascination, awe and respect. I would hate to see a country with such a rich past and HIGH potential for a bright future be shut away and put down in such a manner.
How do we counter act this? How do we push back the threat of this wave that is hovering over us? I honestly do not know. I think WE are ALL open to suggestions, if anyone has any.
Otherwise the cartoon below might be what lies ahead for Egypt and for us;
A few weeks ago I was on a walking tour with some my colleagues in Islamic Cairo on a chilly and somewhat gloomy Saturday morning. I was the youngest female in the group and the only one who had lived in the Middle East for 3 decades. Pete, one of the people on the tour approached me and asked me how I cope with living in Egypt and how do I handle ‘the men’ and being harassed on the street. I told him that I had written an article about Sexual Harassment and it had been published in Community times. Interested in my views and article he asked me to send him a copy and if I would consider being a guest speaker and give a talk to High Schoolers, I agreed.
I am always willing to share my work with others and get their feedback, but as the date for the talk loomed closer I wasn’t so sure if I could follow through. The memories and the feelings of the experiences I had and trying to find the words to describe the situations and how it affected me wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be. I found myself in a tug of war ‘don’t do it, you don’t need to go through all this again, it’s in the past.’ ‘You have to do this, you have to speak up and let the younger generation know that this isn’t acceptable and that women and men shouldn’t brush this under the carpet any longer! Women have been silenced long enough; you need to speak up and out about it.’ My worry was resurrecting and awakening the emotions that I had worked so hard to tame and keep locked away. Would I be able to handle it even after all the time that had passed?
The voice of reason won the battle and I didn’t bail out. To help me I wrote out key points to help me stay on track as a guide line to the discussion and talk. I knew that if I let my emotions get the better of me; it may turn out to be a bawling session and a mockery of something that I feel very deeply about.
The day of the talk, I had butterflies in my stomach and when I saw the young faces of Egypt’s future I became more nervous, my face flushed a bright red and my skin burned, my voice quivered and my hands shook, but I kept going.
After introducing myself to the class, giving my nationalities and making sure that they knew that although I am of mixed ethnicity that I was also ‘ONE OF THEM’, an Egyptian woman. This seemed to wake them up a bit and grab their attention. I discussed the different forms of sexual harassment (Degrading and graphic terms said, the skin crawling looks of being undressed and devoured by the other person and the physical (which on its own comes in many forms))
I told them that most people assume that women or teenage girls must have done something or dressed provocatively to have provoked or asked for the attack to happen. I then told them that my earliest memory was between the ages of 10 or 12 and I was in a shopping mall with my family when I had my first experience and that is when I saw the students get their wake up call! I had reached them; they were seeing it not only from an Egyptian woman’s point of view but from a kid’s point of view. They knew that there was no way at such a young age I could have provoked an attack or had known what sexual harassment was.
Unfortunately children here lead very sheltered lives and do not know what dangers await them outside their apartment doors. They know that there are bad people and that there are thieves but they aren’t made aware of the others that are lurking about. Our girls are clueless and defenseless, I am certain that none of them would know what to do if they were put in a situation like that.
There are many subjects that are taboo in this part of the world and have been locked away in a dark corner of everyone’s mind, simply because they choose not to believe it exists and it will go away on its own. In a perfect world, perhaps it would work, but we do not have that privilege.
Not talking about ‘Sex’, ‘The Body’ and ‘Sexual Harassment’ makes things worse, the predators and prowlers who take advantage of the women walking in the street minding their own business may not have been made aware of what some people will do and how they may violate them. They mightn’t understand or know what their instincts are telling them when they sense an intruder in their personal space. Women being shamed in to guilt and silence just make the offenders more powerful and willing to repeat their acts on other innocent and unsuspecting women?! How can we condone such a thing? We need to arm these women with knowledge of how to recognize a potential offender and how to fight them off. Letting them walk around unarmed with the basic knowledge is just as bad as the person committing the acts themselves.
I know full well what goes through a woman’s mind and the mental torment that follows after an attack. The incident replays itself over and over in your mind, you wonder what you may have done to have provoked the attacker, what you could have done differently. How dirty you feel and no matter how hard or many times you try to wash yourself, the dirt doesn’t seem to go away. It seems to linger on and beneath the skin. You just want to curl up somewhere dark and hide away, BUT if we do that, they win and they strip us of our dignity.
After one of my attacks, I said enough is enough, I will not be silenced! I am not doing anything wrong and I certainly DON’T WANT this to happen! I am going to fight back and I will not let them silence me. This is MY body and they have NO right to touch me!
The examples I gave not only hit home with the girls in the class but it also hit home with the boys. Especially when I told them that on more than one occasion there were men who saw what happened and did nothing. No one came to my aid and I had to fight the sicko off myself!
It isn’t only the women who have to stand up but it’s also the men who have to as well.
I am grateful that the school and the teachers are broaching the subject and are discussing it openly and honestly with the students. I feel that more schools and homes should do the same, If we are ever going to make the streets safer for women to walk down without constantly having to be alert of everyone one around her.
After the talk, four of the staff members who had been present for my talk said that not only were they moved by the talk, but that the students seemed to really relate and were fired up about bringing about change and doing something to make more people aware.
I know I had my doubts about giving the talk, but I am glad that I did. I may have reached someone that day and given them some tips to recognize the warnings and let them know that they are not alone in this.
I have been a victim of Sexual Harassment, I will NOT be silenced and I AM speaking out against it.
NB: My Mom just called me in a panic, because she thought that I had been raped and not told her about it. Sexual Harassment doesn’t have to be an assault to that degree. No, I have not been raped, but I have had men full clothed try to force themselves on me and touch me in places that is in appropriate. That is also sexual harassment and it isn’t right!
People throughout the country are hearing horror stories of people being held for ransom, school buses being attacked by thugs, gun fire exchange, armed robbery/looting among many other harrowing tales…many prefer to stay in their cocoons and ignore the stories or chose to believe they are un-true or exaggerated. I hate to be the one to burst the bubble, but 85%-97% of what we are hearing is true. Yes, the President had resigned from his post, but that wasn’t the end of the revolution, it’s only the beginning of the long road that lies ahead for Egypt and her people. Things are going to get worse before they get better. It’s going to take LOTS of time, a lot of patients and LOTS of HARD WORK. We need to be aware of what is going on around us at all times and become better individuals and take positive steps in order for the change that was demanded to take its proper course. This isn’t going to happen on it’s own… We have to make it happen.
Monday 6th of February 2011
I am so excited! I am finally going to see my family. I have been thinking of every possible way to get to them ever since my friend was evacuated. The railway lines have stopped working and the roads out of Cairo had been closed too. The airport is over crowded with people trying to leave the country and there’s a strong possibility that their aren’t any flights.
I had done most of my packing last night but there are still a few items that I need to put in the put in the bag, but I have to wait for Meeza to wake up.
I am feeling very torn. I have formed a close bond with my host, (No….that’s not right), my surrogate family and I don’t want to leave them. I have enjoyed my time here with them, gotten to know them more and feel like I’m apart of the family. I dread to think what state I would be in, if I hadn’t come to stay with them and decided to tough it out on my own. Without their company, I’m sure I would have reached some level of insanity. Becs family will always have a special place in my heart for opening their home to me.
Bec’s Mum insists that I share breakfast with her. I’m not really hungry and I have been working exceptionally hard at reaching a target weight for my sister’s wedding in April, (Operation Megan Fox). I know it’s a silly thing to be worrying about in times like these, but God willing if all goes well, her wedding will proceed as scheduled and I won’t hate myself for not looking my best and being fit for the special occasion. So, I am adamant that I am going to remain focused on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, grilled meats and drink an excessive amount of water, Revolution or not! (would this make me stubborn or very determined?)
At around 11am my father arrives, I am so glad to see him. I waste no time in embracing him at the door and kissing his cheeks. I notice that he looks tired but a wave of relief washes over his face when he sees me. My father and I don’t see eye to ey very often and with us being stubborn and control freaks, we often but heads and clash, but with that put a side, he is my Dad, I love him to pieces and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him.
My Dad comes in to the house for no longer than twenty minutes. We can’t delay our departure due to heavy traffic caused by blocked off roads and protests. We also have to be back in Alexandria before curfew time. My Dad thanks Bec’s parents and as a small gesture of my families appreciation and gratitude for all they have done for me he gives them a bottle of Whiskey and a big box of sweet dates. I in turn hug both Bec’s parents and thank them and promise to come and see them as soon as I am back and settled again.
As soon as we are in the car we have to make a stop at my house to pay the landlord the rent and so that I can drop some unwanted items and collect more clothes (who knows how long the current situation is going to last).
As we approach my street, which is a big military area, I notice a crowd of twenty or more people near the Military Hotel, Triumph. I wonder what they are all doing sitting around staring at the Military compound’s huge metal gates. My father must have caught my gaze or read my mind and informs me that the people are waiting to see their loved ones that had been recaptured by neighborhood watch and military me as they were trying to loot the nearby areas. Upon hearing this slightly disturbing piece of information, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I had followed my instincts and made the decision to go and stay with Bec’s and his family. The thought of having the escapees that have been causing fear and havoc in the city held across the street from my building, was not in the least bit comforting.
As soon as the car came to a halt, I waste no time in going in to my building and up to my apartment to leave an un-needed bag and gather some other belongings. I am whirling around the place like the Tazmanian Devil from the famous Warner Brother’s Cartoons. I am trying to be as quick as possible so that the echos of the last night spent in the apartment don’t come back to me. The feeling of being in my flat is an odd one. It is familiar and yet alien at the same time. ‘I hope to see you again soon’ I say to it before I close the door and lock it before taking the elevator back down to rejoin my father and the hired driver to head back to Alexandria.
During the drive out of the city my father ask me questions about the safety situation in Heliopolis, the sight of the barbed wires across the street and the tanks pointing outwards to wards the road. He tells me of events and situations that have taken place in Alexandria. That with in the first two days after the prisoners escaped from prison, the people guarding our street caught fourteen ‘baltageya’ (thugs/looters). He told me that other areas of Alexandria are experiencing much worse and that I know for a fact. My friend Shamel has been calling me daily telling me about his nightly watch and the amount of firing and killing that had been going on. Although I am living it, hearing it and experiencing it, my mind still has a difficult time accepting and believing that this is happening to us here in Egypt. It just boggles my mind! How did things spiral out of control so quickly? What lies ahead for all of us? Is it going to get worse? Will things ever get better? It is hard to tell…
At the Cairo toll gate leading to the desert road armored vehicles stand guard with their guns pointed at the center of the road. By the wayside, stolen, crashed and torched cars had been confiscated ownerless as you pass by the toll gate. For the past week we have been hearing horror stories of people’s cars being run off the road, cars being hijacked, robberies, rapes and killings along the desert road. On all the occasions I have driven back and forth on this road, I have never been so alert and watchful of every movement, car and person.
To stop at a rest house to use the toilet, gas up or buy something to eat is too risky and dangerous. Some of the escaped convicts are still on the loose and nobody wants to take any chances. The busy rest stops are empty, which is a strange sight because they are usually bursting at the seams with business, but now only the gas stations have clients. My father told me that he had stopped at one of the gas stations on the way and when he entered to building the owner was sat with a machine gun and bullets across his chest, the smell of freshly baked fiteer was absent in the air and the bustling of the waiters bringing the customers no longer existed.
We finally reach Alexandria after a two and a half hour drive, the security at the toll gate is more intense that the Cairo toll gate. There are more cars and the traffic is worse. Getting to the city is difficult, there is a hold up of some kind. We find out that the congestion is caused by a bus accident and large puddles of water.
As we pass by Carrefour City Center (a big shopping complex) there dozens of confiscated stolen cars parked on the side as you pass the shopping area. There are huge tanks and armoured vehicles positioned there too.
After two weeks of wanting to be with my family and a two and a half hour drive, I am finally home. I take my bags out of the car, get in to the elevator and press the button. The ride up seems to take longer than usual. “Hurry up!! I want to hug my Mum and sister!” As I finally reach my floor, I can see my mother’s silhouette through the glass with her arms spread wide ready to embrace me as I step out. I yank out the bags and drop them at her feet and just squeeze her tightly, while breathing in her motherly scent. There is nothing as warm or comforting as a mother’s embrace.
As I walk over the threshold of the apartment, my sister comes to greet me in the foyer of the apartment and we hug. It is so good to be home and with family. They look well but tired from all the stress and constant worrying about their safety, the state of the country and me. At least now, they have one less thing to worry about. I am here, safe and sound with them.
We retire to the sitting room and talk for hours while pausing mid conversation every so often to hear the latest news up dates.
By 9pm I can no longer keep my yes open and got to bed.
I am home at last.