Guest Author - Rebecca Graf
While Middle Eastern papers are not as vocal about the abuse of the Egyptian women during and after the revolution, they are not completely ignoring the problem either. Al Arabiya reported how one Egyptian woman was pulled from the mass of protesters and stripped down to a blue bra she wore. From there the soldiers dragged the woman “by the arms through Tahrir Square, was beaten by iron clubs, and was kicked in her bare torso.” Many within the Egyptian and Arab world claim that she asked for such humiliation as she wore provocative underwear and did not wear multiple layers of clothes to protect herself. The decision to protest brought about the humiliation of an Egyptian woman and sparked women of Egypt to protest stronger than ever before. The blue bra became a rallying cry for many women who otherwise would have remained silent. The paper goes on to give a short account of how Egyptians who were “exercising their right to peaceful protest” were taken by force and “mercilessly beaten up and killed in cold blood” while women were bullied with “incessant physical and psychological abuse.” The Arab paper took a risky chance to stand alongside the women and report what many American papers were already telling the world.
The New York Times reported that after the video of the woman in the blue bra was seen by the world “several thousand women demanding the end of military rule” made their way through Cairo publically expressing their “anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking female demonstrators.” The women of the nation gathered as one to fight a male dominated culture that had for generations kept their abuse quiet and ignored their suffering. Their consolidated effort brought the power of the Egyptian woman “to the center of Egyptian political life” and giving them a chance to participate in areas before had been barred to them.
The abuse of women detained by the military has included ‘virginity testing’ that is as close to rape as a woman can come to without actually being raped. There have been many reports of these tests being preludes to rapes which the Egyptian culture does not discuss and is never addressed for the women involved. It was only after human rights groups protested the official test that were performed on prisoners and those entering military service that the Egyptian military council stated it was abolishing the policy. To many it comes too late after the protests in Tahrir Square where close to twenty women were taken by soldiers and “reportedly detained, beaten, prodded with electrical shock batons, subjected to strip searches” in front of male soldiers and then “forced to submit to ‘virginity tests,’ and threatened with prostitution charges.” All this was reported by Al Arabiya.
Any woman subjected to sexual harassment typically kept her mouth shut. It was reported that as many as eighty-three percent of all Egyptian women had been sexually harassed but rarely reported it as the blame would be placed on them. Many Egyptian conservatives have blamed the lack of veils as the reason for the number of rapes. The veil’s purpose was to give a woman modesty and keep her beauty that could give a man sinful thoughts hidden away. Yet further studies are showing that even the women who are veiled are raped as often as those that are not. One man interviewed said he attacked a veiled woman because he “felt enticed….as he wondered what she was hiding.” Not even a veil was a guarantee that a woman’s virtue would be safe. Rape and sexual harassment became a protected right of men to satisfy their basest of desires while the women kept their mouths shut in silent suffering.
Since the time of the revolution, the virginity testing has been banned but the military has been acquitted of all charges against it by those women brave enough to stand up to it. All charges were dropped due to “conflicting witness accounts” though the ruling to abolish the practice officially still stands. Though women are finding their voice and the courage to stand up, it will be a long and difficult road. Those that participated in the revolution did so “partly because they were hoping for change for women.”
The treatment of the women during the revolution contradicts much of Egypt’s history where it expanded the rights of women and offered protection where none existed before. In 1956 and in 1962 the constitutions of Egypt “guaranteed equal opportunities to all Egyptians regardless of gender.” This was a huge step forward for Egyptian women. The treatment of women during the revolution has been a drastic contradiction to the official policies of Egypt where women have been given equal chances in public life as men. According to some reports, women are not hidden away but “are very visible in all walks of modern Egyptian life and are treated as equal members of society.” In the early 1900s, “women appeared as prominent participants” in the educational, intellectual, and political spheres in Egypt. From there, women were admitted into universities where they had been denied before.
It was in the late 1950s through the 1970s that women found themselves making the largest strides in their place in Egyptian society. It was during that time women in Egypt “started their own businesses, entered parliament, were appointed to cabinet posts, and became conspicuous and visible.” Yet women still find themselves subjected to humiliating sexual treatment by men within their own country.
Of the women in the Cairo museum that were detained, at least twenty were tortured with several dying. The ones that survived the brutal beatings “were given a virginity test by a woman military doctor in front of a group of laughing, clapping soldiers.” The act was not the end of the ordeal the women were put through. After the female doctor completed her ‘exam’, a military officer, male, ordered the women to “strip again and carried out a similar assault himself.”
Typically, newspapers can be biased in their reporting no matter how they verbally express their objectivity. This can especially be true when one is talking about political, cultural, and religious topics such as the sexual harassment of women during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Yet the horrific ordeal of the women in Egypt was not ignored even by Arabian newspapers. Between the American New York Times and the Arab based Al Arabiya newspapers, the plight of the Egyptian women made national news and penetrated all areas of the world. They exposed the abuse of the soldiers as well as many men within the country. They expounded on the courage the women took in taking these men to court and publically challenging the traditional rule of keeping silent on such matters.