Egyptian women have been living under horrendously abusive conditions for a long time. My research on global domestic violence in 2011 revealed that 67% of urban women and 30% of rural women in Egypt faced domestic violence in 2002 and 2003. Another survey showed that 80% of rural Egyptian women said their husbands beat them frequently and believed a man has the right to hit a woman. The high levels of domestic violence in Egyptian society reflect a culture that treats women with systematic contempt, cruelty, and disrespect.
Egypt also suffers from very high levels of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). 94% of women aged 18 to 49 suffered FGM. In addition, ar least 50% of girls aged 10 to 18 suffered this atrocity, and 60% of girls aged 10 to 13 were at risk for this crime. The custom is common among both Egyptian Muslims and Coptic Christians.
The stories of abused Egyptian women are haunting. Nour says her husband beats her because he is a drug addict. Her brother blames her for the abuse and tells her “I have to tolerate everything for the sake of my children.” She is forced to work to support his drug habit, and in exchange he beats her.
Zeinab, 36, a mother of three, says her husband beats her and then rapes her. He is a drug user who has also thrown glass and heavy furniture at her. She is afraid to ask for a divorce or even to reveal why she chooses to remain under such abusive conditions.
Sayeda, 55, also a mother of three, says her husband beats her for refusing to have anal sex. Her husband continued to hit her even after she got heart disease, thus revealing murderous intentions toward her.
Hend, 17, said her mother divorced her father after he tried to burn her for refusing to give him a small amount of money. Now her father not only refuses to work but forces Hend to work to support him and her two brothers. Since he can no longer hit her mother, now he beats her if she fails to show up for work.
Divorce is also heavily stigmatized in Egypt. Om Fatma, a poor woman who was married at 18, divorced her husband after 15 years for cheating on her. He engaged in numerous extramarital affairs and also sexually harassed and flirted with his female customers at their tailoring shop.
After her divorce, she was evicted from her home because she had no income. He took the tailoring shop, leaving her penniless. He left behind unpaid debts, and her children received threats because of his refusal to pay his debts. Now she lives with her children in her elderly father’s flat, and her daughter works to support the family.
Nadia, an upper middle class woman, also suffered domestic violence and divorce. Her wealthy husband beat her, and her family blamed her for the abuse. After her divorce, she faced discrimination from employers who refused to hire her because of her marital status. She was also the target of intense sexual harassment. Her second husband divorced her after just one year of marriage because his family could not accept his marriage to a divorced woman. But she at least became a professional and independent woman able to support herself financially.
The military and now the Muslim Brotherhood have also escalated their human rights abuses against women since the fall of the Mubarak regime. But the human rights abuses against female protestors by the military and the Muslim Brotherhood cannot be separated from the daily violence against women by their husbands and fathers. The violence against female protestors on Egyptian streets is inextricably linked with the totalitarian conditions inside Egyptian homes.