Although Egypt’s latest president, Mohamed Morsi, was forced from power due to a combination of massive street protests and military intervention, I wanted to revisit the protests and look at a disturbing similarity they shared with the last major protests to rock Egypt.
In an echo of the 2011 gang rape of journalist Lara Logan, who was covering the Arab Spring protests in Tahrir Square, women at the demonstrations continue to be targeted with sexual violence.
While some might be inclined to describe the repeated attacks as purely the result of mob mentality (Morsi’s government said it was a sign the protests were out of control), other factors are at play. For one thing, there is practically no chance of an attacker being caught or facing charges. For another, some officials have recommended that women concerned for their safety just stay home, away from both potential attackers and involvement in the political process. So the assault itself, and the official response, seems to be more a political tool to dissuade women from entering the public/political sphere.
Some groups took action to try and stop the assaults, and to aid victims. One was Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault. Another was Nazra for Feminist Studies, and another is called Tahrir Bodyguard. They and other groups reported over 100 sexual assaults just in the Tahrir Square area over a few days. In a typical attack, a group of young men encircle a woman and maneuver to separate her from her friends, then the assault begins. It can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour before the woman gets away or someone helps, during which time more attackers join the crowd.
At the height of the protests, even Tahrir Bodyguard was starting to recommend that women not attend the protests.
It is an easy and, to an extent, even a seemingly reasonable response to say that, given the security situation at the protests, maybe it would be best for women not to attend. But these protests have now not once, but twice, in the course of two years, succeeded in changing Egypt’s government. To say that women should not attend is to say that they should not partake in what has been the most significant political activity to take place in their country in years. And when women are excluded from any part of the political process, it becomes that much harder to ensure their interests are represented in any part of the political process. That creates and perpetuates situations where men can attack them with impunity and deny them fundamental rights.
The women of Tahrir Square, and of the world, deserve better than that.