by Raymond Ibrahim*
Since the “Arab Spring” came to Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood assumed power, sexual harassment, abuse, and rape of women has skyrocketed. This graph, which shows an enormous jump in sexual harassment beginning around January 2011, when the Tahrir revolts began, certainly demonstrates as much. Its findings are further supported by any number of reports appearing in both Arabic and Western media, and from both Egyptian and foreign women.
Hundreds of Egyptian women recently took to the streets of Tahrir Square to protest the nonstop harassment they must endure whenever they emerge from their homes and onto the streets. They held slogans like “Silence is unacceptable, my anger will be heard,” and “A safe square for all; Down with sexual harassment.” “Marchers also shouted chants against President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood group from which he hails,” wrote Al Ahram Online.
The response? More sexual harassment and rapes.
One woman recently appeared on Egyptian TV recounting her horrific experiences. On the program, she appeared shaded, to conceal her identity—less because she felt personal shame or guilt at what happened and more to protect her and her family from further abuses. She recounted how she had seen a Facebook notice that Egyptian women were going to protest the unsafe conditions for women on the Egyptian street and decided to join them on their scheduled march in Tahrir Square on January 25, the anniversary of the revolution. “I did not realize I would become the victim,” she lamented. When it started to get dark, her group heard that “strange looking men” were appearing and that it was best to leave the area.
During some chaos she was lost from her group. One man told her “this way,” pretending to help her to safety—”I was so naïve to believe him!”—only to lead her to a large group of men, she estimated around 50, who proceeded to encircle and rape her. “This was the first time someone touched me” quietly recounted the former virgin: “Each one of them attacked a part of my body.” Several pinned her down while others pulled off her pants and stripped her naked, gang-raping her for approximately 20 minutes. She explained how she truly thought she was going to die, and kept screaming “I’m dying!” In response, one of her rapists whispered in her ears: “Don’t worry. Take it,” even as the rest called her derogatory names she would not recite on the air.
Considering that in late November last year, when many Egyptians, including women, were protesting President Morsi’s Sharia-heavy constitution and the Muslim Brotherhood responded by paying gangs and thugs to rape protesting women in the streets, anecdotes like the above are becoming commonplace. Indeed, to appreciate the regularization of sexual harassment and rape in Egypt, consider the words of popular Salafi preacher Abu Islam, who openly, and very sarcastically, blamed the victims:
“They tell you women are a red line. They tell you that naked women—who are going to Tahrir Square because they want to be raped—are a red line! And they ask Mursi and the Brotherhood to leave power!” Abu Islam added that these women activists are going to Tahrir Square not to protest but to be sexually abused because they had wanted to be raped. “They have no shame, no fear and not even feminism. Practice your feminism, sheikha! It is a legitimate right for you to be a woman,” he said. “And by the way, 90 percent of them are crusaders [i.e. Christian Copts] and the remaining 10 percent are widows who have no one to control them. You see women talking like monsters,” he added.
No doubt some will argue that Abu Islam is just a “radical” who speaks for himself. Yet many more formal bodies made similar observations, including the new Egyptian parliament’s Shura Council’s “human rights committee,” whose members said
that women taking part in protests bear the responsibility of being sexually harassed, describing what happens in some demonstrators’ tents as “prostitution.” Major General Adel Afify, member of the committee representing the Salafi Asala Party, criticized female protesters, saying that they “know they are among thugs. They should protect themselves before requesting that the Interior Ministry does so. By getting herself involved in such circumstances, the woman has 100 percent responsibility.”
These sentiments are widely shared in Egypt. A study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights said that 62% of men admitted to harassing women, while 53% blame women for “bringing it on.” Nor is this phenomenon limited to Egyptian women: while 83% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, so have 98% of foreign female visitors.
After describing her own personal experiences with sexual harassment in Egypt, Sarah A. Topol asserts that “Sexual harassment — actually, let’s call it what it is: assault — in Egypt is not just common. It’s an epidemic. It inhabits every space in this society, from back alleys to the birthplace of the newest chapter of Egyptian history.… For the 18 days of protest last year, for me, Tahrir Square was a harassment-free zone. I noticed it, everyone did. But as soon as President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the unity ended and the harassment returned.”
Journalists Sophia Jones and Erin Banco also elaborated on the epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt:
It’s difficult to write about sexual harassment and assault in Egypt without sounding like Angry White Girls. But as journalists, it is not merely our job to report in such an environment, it is an everyday psychological and sometimes even physical battle. We open our closets in the morning and debate what to wear to lessen the harassment—as if this would help. Even fully veiled women are harassed on Cairo’s streets. As one young Cairo-based female reporter recently remarked, “it’s a f–ked-up reality that we will be touched.”…. Like hundreds of other countries around the world, sexual harassment and assault happens everyday in Egypt. It happens to both Egyptian women, and to foreign women. It happens at all times of the day, despite what some may think, at the hands of men—young boys, grown men, police officers, military officers, and almost everyone in between.
The journalists then offer an all too familiar story:
Nor is this merely limited to sexual harassment, but it often, under the right circumstances—few witnesses, the availability of dark allies—culminates into fullblown gangrape. For example, Natasha Smith a young British journalist covering Tahrir Square, was dragged from her male companion into a frenzied mob in the hundreds. “Men began to rip off my clothes,” she wrote on her blog. They “pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way … All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.”
All this is yet another indicator of the true nature of the Obama-supported “Arab Spring.”
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.
Related: Egypt, Extremists, Feminism, Islam