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Mourning A Sexually Harassed Egypt         

a small portrait of this author

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 @ 13:20 UTC

by Marwa Rakha

Two-thirds of Egyptian men harass women showed a survey reported by Reuters. The survey of more than 2,000 Egyptian men and women and 109 foreign women said

  • 62% of Egyptian men reported perpetrating harassment.
  • 83% of Egyptian women reported having been sexually harassed.
  • 98% of foreign women saying they had experienced harassment in the country.
  • Nearly half of women said the abuse occurred daily.
  • 2.4% of Egyptian women reported it to the police.
  • Most Egyptian women believed the victim should “remain silent.”
  • 53% of men blamed women for bringing on sexual harassment, saying they enjoyed it or were dressed in a way deemed indecent. Some women agreed.
  • Most agreed women should be home by 8 p.m.
  • The survey said most of the Egyptian women who told of being harassed said they were dressed conservatively, with the majority wearing the Islamic headscarf (HIJAB).
  • The harassment took place on the streets or on public transport, as well as in tourist destinations and foreign educational institutions.

Dina Ayoub a 26 year old female blogger residing in Canada wrote a post titled Epidemic of Sexual Harassment in Egypt in response to that report declaring that

That's exactly what it is. An epidemic. One that's been festering and spreading for years upon years, and only gets worse. I wonder if a cure will emerge some day for this sickening behavior.

Dina believes the 83% is a false figure and that more Egyptian women have had at least one sexual harassment experience; they are just living in denial

I think the 17% of women who have reported not being harassed on the streets either live under a rock & never come out, or are too ashamed to admit to it, or maybe think that saying it never happened will make it true. Or perhaps they just don't want to worsen Egypt's reputation. Or maybe they blame themselves for it, just like society does, so they don't really consider it harassment.

The infuriated blogger envies the 98% of foreign women who admitted to being harassed on Egyptian streets because they probably get harassed LESS than Egyptian women do. Why? Because the guys who harass them are cowards. The tourist police actually cares about what the tourists think or else they won't come back to the country and spend some more money, so they handle their complaints seriously - unlike the normal police which just adds insult to injury. So they are afraid. I used to go to Khan El Khalili a lot, and I would see Egyptian women get harassed, myself included, but never a foreign woman. NEVER. So if 98% of them have been harassed, my guess is on the streets elsewhere not at a touristic place.

Dina - now living in Vancouver - remembers what every Egyptian woman identifies with saying

There's this look in an Egyptian man's eyes that makes me want to poke his eyes out, mutilate his body parts, and then kill him. A psychotic, undressing, invasive and violating look. A look so disgusting that it makes me shiver in my own skin, and wish that the earth would just swallow me up to cover me from it. A look so filthy, that you can see the virtual assault on you in his sleazy eyes. I hate that look so much.

How men and women responded in the survey will not help Egypt or Egyptian women

The worst part of it, is that people think it's the woman's fault. That is just sad. That's exactly the same thought path of psychotic rapists who think “she asked for it”. It's sick, perverted, twisted, uncivilized, and just plain stupid. And this has nothing to do with religion, as a matter of fact. It's just a sick culture.

Dina goes from her own analysis to Islam and how it is being used and abused by people who are - at best - ignorant

In Islam, a woman is supposed to dress modestly, cover her body, not wear tight or revealing clothes. BUT, and this is a very big BUT, a man is also supposed to not look at the women, to be polite in looking. Not be invasive. Somehow society has forgotten about this latter part, or more like… chosen to ignore it, just as it has chosen to ignore many of women's' rights, and all they can do is blame the woman. Same old story, always blame the woman.

Then you find a woman walking in hijab (veil), fully covered, nothing tight, nothing revealing.. and she still gets harassed. You find a 60 year old veiled woman that gets into a cab and gets harassed. You find a 12 year old girl being harassed. Even a women in niqab (head to toe veil) is not immune to such behavior. These are all things I've witnessed myself or heard of from people I know well, so they are nothing out of the ordinary, just the daily bullshit an Egyptian woman has to live with.

When Dina used to live in Cairo, she felt more comfortable in the company of a male chaperone

I used to hate walking in Egypt. I really did. I always dreaded going somewhere, and limited my walking to the very minimum. If I were to go out in public, I'd make damn sure I have a male friend with me, and with that I'd avoid the comments and physical harassment, but not the petrifying stares. I couldn't just go shopping in peace. Walk to the women's hairdresser a couple of blocks away, even cross the street I live on without dreading a harassment.

Now mind you, I am nothing spectacular. I'm no beauty queen, on the contrary, I'm on the lower side of that scale. And I wear a hijab (veil). And I'm not physically provocative. But that doesn't matter. We're just pieces of meat walking around some hungry dogs.

Stretching her post a bit further, Dina talked about rape and how women take the fall for that kind of abuse too

In Egypt, if a woman goes to a man's house and gets raped, she has no rights. Seriously. That is just sad. So if one day you go over to your friend's house for a nice dinner with a lot of other friends, and for your shitty luck something happens and you are there alone with someone sick, that's it. You are pretty much screwed. Not that women would report it anyway in Egypt, many of them just don't report it at all, because in Egypt a woman's reputation is everything. Something I despise to my very core. But you don't even have the option to, because “it's your own damn fault, you're a whore for going to a man's house”.

Are all Egyptian men cheap predators? Are they all sick stalkers? Do they all want to grab a piece of meat?

Now, I'm not claiming all men in Egypt are bad. I know very honorable men who would never hurt a fly, let alone a woman. Men who are noble, who abide by their beliefs, respect women and endless other great qualities. But sadly, they are not the majority. They are rare pearls that I've had the honor & privilege of finding in my life. I wish Egypt could fill up on the likes of those men.

When it comes to a cure, Dina hangs on to education … not the kind of education that we currently have

Many an educated man in Egypt have the narrowest and most retarded of minds. Education of Rights. They should add a new course to all schooling systems from year 1. Perhaps if people understood one's right to be treated with respect, and freedom, some of the harassment would cease. But that's just the optimist in me. We are light years away from that.

At the end of her post, Dina wrote a disclaimer owning her ideas and opinions and, like me, admitting that the only purpose of this post is to make Egypt a better place.

1- This is how I personally feel about these issues. You are free to agree or disagree, and perhaps your life experiences show you otherwise - but please respect my right to an opinion of my own on the matter.
2- This article means no disrespect to Egypt, my home, and my love. This frustration and embitterment comes out of the love for Egypt and wanting it to be a better place for all people, women and men.

Posted by Marwa Rakha

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