May 28, 2011

Sexually Harassing Egypt's Revolution

Why is sexual harassment denialism so strong in Egypt? Is it not the right time to discuss it because we are having an unprecedented peaceful revolution? Or the patriarchy runs so deep to the point we ignore horrible incidents of mass sexual harassment?

During the revolution days, everyone was talking about how Tahrir Square was free from any sexual harassment. I wondered how anyone could really verify such a statement! We have rampant sexual harassment issues yes, but we still have the culture of silence and shame around it. How many girls and women would actually go and report sexual harassment?

During one of the famous 18 nights of Tahrir sit-in before toppling Mubarak, I was there with a friend of mine who told me she got groped by a guy selling balloons, we chased him and took him to the public committees’ guys that were organizing the flow into the square and they kicked him out of the square.

I don’t mean to say that Tahrir was full of sexual harassment and truly Tahrir witnessed a great state of harmony and positive interaction during those 18 days. I am thinking that denying the sexual harassment during those days may be because we are a conservative culture after all and we’re trying to prove that the mixing of men and women in Tahrir days and nights was innocent and “patriotic”.

Yesterday was an important day for the revolution. Protesters took Tahrir square again to assert revolution’s demands. Islamists groups decided not to participate yesterday so it was a test for liberal and secular groups to organize in the streets. It was considered a success given the thousands that showed up, but it was marred by a horrible incident of sexual harassment of the famous diva Sherihan.


Sherihan was an actress and performer loved by Egyptians particularly during the 80s and 90s. She suffered a severe car accident in mid-90s and it was rumored that it was a chapter of love and power saga that involved Alaa the elder son of Mubarak. She magically recovered and came back to the stage, only to suffer cancer a few years later and move away from the artistic scene. Sherihan was one of the few artists who participated in the revolution unlike many artists who withdrew from making a political stance.

My mother told me that this sad video was screened on TV that shows the horrible incident. The setting around her doesn’t look like Tahrir, some reported that this happened as she was leaving Tahrir yesterday.

What really angers me is the lack of attention such incident got and some of the horrible comments of victim-blame that I always hear when sexual harassment is brought up. Some wonder why she went out of her home! It makes me wonder how deep the denialism about gender inequality is in our country. Even activists refrain from mentioning the incident. Is it because they didn’t know? Or is it an attempt to maintain the silver-lining of the revolution? Is not really important to talk about now? Or is it deep-hidden patriarchy?

But the answer won’t be simple and many factors come at play here. What if this happened to one of the famous activists of the revolution? Does the revolution have an authoritarian system that controls who is important and who’s not? What if the victim of mass harassment was an unknown person? Would it get reported at all?

Lara Logan 
When Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Tahrir right after Mubarak was toppled, Western media was all over covering her story. Western coverage was very uneven as well with some victim blaming and Islam bashing too. But Egyptian media failed to report on it. Is it because we deny sexual harassment? Is it because she’s a foreigner? Or we were simply overjoyed by Mubarak’s departure?

In gender battles, other factors interfere such as race, age, class, and power. I think we really need to think about these questions and recognize our prejudices. This is how we push the revolution forward.

May 23, 2011

Dear SCAF, man up and handle some criticism!

When I first heard about the call to dedicate a day to blog criticizing the violations and the abuses by Supreme Council of Armed Forces, I didn't really think it would pay off. The day has kicked off and so far 160+ posts have been written. This has both inspired me to write and confused about what more I can add to what they have already said.

The SCAF claims to have sided with the people from the very beginning of the revolution. I wonder if that claim can really be validated when we look at the current context. The SCAF has controlled the media; tortured and detained people; militarily tried civilians; let thugs terrorize innocent citizens; witnessed sectarian violence rise without really doing anything about it; and the list goes on and on. This either shows that the SCAF never sided with people, or is really clueless about how to handle our country. Maybe the SCAF found itself in a situation that has to be controlled and so they wanted to minimize the damage going on for their interests so they decided to take power and start a poorly-enacted play!

So far the SCAF has shown little tolerance to criticism and some activists have been tried with a very interesting charge, namely defaming the army!

However, this can be somehow seen in positive light. I remember the day when we were never able to criticize the army or even talk about it. The army's taking over has made its performance an easy target for criticism and appraisal, a precedent in the last few decades. Only Maikel Nabil took the lead in breaking that taboo during Mubarak's rule and started his struggle against militarism and compulsory recruitment of Egyptians into the army. Maikel is paying the price for sharing his opinion about the army and now spending a 3-year sentence in jail. 

I cannot really predict what's going to happen next. However, I can hope for things to get better. As long as the Egyptians are aware of what's going on and still able to criticize their surrounding then what's next is going to be fine. We can do it!