In March, 2011, seventeen Egyptian female protestors were subjected to “virginity tests” by the military regime. Naturally, a military court refused to convict the doctor who conducted the “virginity tests.” The military itself is responsible for this human rights abuse and cannot be expected to prosecute itself.
“A huge part of the idea of militarization in society involves targeting women,” said activist Mozn Hassan, head of Nazra for feminist studies. When the military was found to be physically abusing female protestors in December, 2011, many people blamed the women for being present in public and for their “provocative clothing.” A Central Security Forces deputy head Abd Al Fattah Othman, echoed this disturbing logic, saying women provoked the assaults through their style of dress and adding that police were not responsible for protecting protestors. Similarly, Western patriarchal jury members sometimes fail to convict men of rape because they blame rape victims for their “provocative clothing.”
Egyptian feminists also say the Presidential candidates have systematically refused to address women’s issues. Eman, a researcher for Nazra and blogger, noted that Amr Moussa was the only Presidential candidate who met with feminist activists. And only 10 women won seats in the first post-Mubarak parliament in 2012. Thus, women are underrepresented politically. Women’s issues and concerns are not being meaningfully addressed in Egyptian politics.
A UN report in 2013 said that 50% of Egyptian women faced more sexual harassment after the fall of the Mubarak regime. Naturally, since the police are more likely to attack rape victims than help them, just 19% of women report such sexual violence to the police.
Women face even greater danger under the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Islamist regime. 19 women were sexually assaulted while demonstrating to mark the 2nd anniversary of the protests that brought down the Mubarak regime on January 25, 2013. Sadly, MB leaders resorted to gender stereotypes as they attempted to justify repressing Egyptian female political activism. Female MB member Radha Saleh Al-Hafnawi said: “I demand that women not stand among men during protests… How can we ask the interior ministry to protect a lady who stands among men?” Ms. Al-Hafnawi proposes to solve the problem of men assaulting women through the Islamist method of gender segregation which separates women from men and prevents women from participating in public political life.
Opposition politicians such as the National Salvation Front blame the Muslim Brotherhood for inciting violence against female protestors. “Deliberate sexual harassment and assault by groups [of men] is an inseparable part of the oppression, torture, denial of honor, and mental and physical attack employed against the revolution and revolutionaries in general… The [National] Salvation Front holds the president, his government and the interior minister criminally responsible for this violence.” Thus opposition politicians understand that radical Islamists are trying to suppress their female followers because they are threatened by women organizing and defending themselves.
Some courageous men such as Mohammed Gamal Al-Din, a columnist for the daily Roz Al-Yousef, challenged the systematic Islamist assault against Egyptian female political activists. Mr. Gamal al Din specifically called for the prosecution of MB and Wahhabi leaders who incite and justify the use of politically motivated violence against female demonstrations. He has the right idea and needs the support of more men to implement it, but sadly the likelihood of male leaders being prosecuted for institutionalized violence against women is very slim.
Wahhabis also represent perhaps the most extreme long-term threat to women. For example, Wahhabi preacher Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah incited violence against female protestors in Tahrir Square, saying they “have no shame and want to be raped.” Wahhabi politician Adel Afifi said in some cases of female protestors,”the woman contributes 100% to her own rape by placing herself in this situation.” Thus, the Wahhabis are trying to blame the woman for her own victimization and to justify their assaults and intimidation against women. The growth of the Saudi-influenced Wahhabism in Egypt is driven by the experiences of Egyptian male employees who absorbed Wahhabi ideology while working in Saudi Arabia. Some of these men have returned home to Egypt and are now trying to impose this worldview on Egypt. Wahhabism is a departure from the home-grown Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and has more rigid ideas about gender roles than even the highly sexist and traditionalist Muslim Brotherhood.
Women are beginning to organize against these abuses. Women are protesting on Facebook and Twitter. Operation anti-Sexual Harassment “set out to protect women during the protests and established a situation room to document cases of harassment.” Women are taking self-defense courses and carried knives during one recent protest at Tahrir Square. Activists sought to gain support from the global feminist movement by organizing protests against these abuses at Egyptian embassies worldwide. Female activism and empowerment is the long-term solution to this problem. The more effectively that Egyptian women stand up for themselves, the harder it will be for men to get away with assaulting them.