It is no secret that sexual harassment is a very dangerous phenomenon in Egypt streets. What is striking is that it is getting worse, not better. I have been suffering from street sexual harassment for years, and wrote 2 years ago that I no longer had any tolerance for it. I described how I would attack men in cars with rocks if they had stopped to harass me.
Earlier last year, the day it was announced that Mubarak had stepped down, Tahrir Square was so crowded with people celebrating, and in the middle of the crowd, my friend was harassed. Basma, the prominent actress and political activist, also mentioned that she was harassed that day also, calling it the first time for her in Tahrir Square.
During the first Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes, I was harassed three times, and only once was I able to react.
Last January, celebrating the Jan25 first anniversary, Basma was harassed again! She talked about that second incident in a recent TV interview. In fact, she was invited for that TV interview because when she and her husband former MP Amr Hamzawy joined a protest in favour of freedom of speech, she was harassed yet again, making this the third time.
Amr Hamzawy tweeted about the incident and expressed his frustration with the harassment, only to face worse reactions, blaming him for being unreasonable about it and attacking him for not being a man enough, because he tweeted about it.
When I shared Hamzawy’s tweets on my Facebook account, some of the commented actually questioned Hamzawy’s manhood. Karim Abdel-Nabi, a friend who allowed me to quote his comment, said:
“I respect that Hamzawy supported his wife and didn’t deal with the situation as if it was a scandal to hide, and what should be important for us now instead of blaming Basma and Hamzawy – because they are victims here – is to focus on the offender himself (the harasser). We have to demand solutions to prevent this crime from happening again rather than just waiting for next Eid to cry!”
Hamzawy himself tried to pass a law against harassment when he was an MP but faced resistance from Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al-Nour Party, run by Salafists; as he explains:
“I tried during the period of the parliament to push for proposing tougher sanctions to ensure law amendments to some articles in the penal code, but the majority from both of FJP and Al-Nour parties overturned it and emptied its content.”
Hamzawy continues, knowing very well his wife’s experience is just the tip of an iceberg:
“It exceeds personal bitterness to grieve what Egyptian women have to face daily and around the clock from the systematic violation of their dignity, and the male enforced twist of the catastrophe by a very bad vindicatory speech.”
The speech he refers to is the general societal acceptance of blaming the woman if she is harassed; it must have been her clothes, her improperly-hidden sexual appeal, or her being a woman walking down the streets when men can’t find a wife to fulfil his needs (as if it’s only single men who harass women). That last argument was the base of Ahmed Samir’s article in Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, proposing a radical (and bullshit) solution, suggesting that sexual harassment could be addressed by making sex more available.
A few days ago, I was in the faculty hospital for my studies. I passed by a car in which the driver was generous enough to give me his flattering opinion. I yelled at him, so he started to stutter and apologize, then the security personnel approached me to leave him.
A woman passing by saw what happened so she yelled at the harasser; when that happened, one of the security people asked the woman to mind her own business.
“You think this isn’t my business?” she responded “Today he harassed her; tomorrow he’ll harass 10 others!”
What I liked about that woman isn’t only that she approached me and wanted me to be sure I wasn’t alone; it is her logic that I respect, even if the security didn’t appreciate what she said – although they didn’t support the harasser at all.
We already struggle to get authorities to take this matter seriously, and we don’t need women to neglect it as if it will solve itself.
According to Hamzawy, the two main ways that men justify the phenomenon of harassment are that either women should just stay at home except if they are out with a man (that being a husband, a father or a son), or that it’s the women’s outfit, and that women should embrace chastity in what they wear.
“It is as if the working, studying, supporting women, the artist, the intellect, or any woman’s personal freedom – half the society’s freedom – is a marginal matter, or a matter that requires the man to be transformed into a monster who is always ready to defend the woman (his flesh in the patriarch dictionary) to be able to go out with her!”
And he continues:
“All these justifications for the crime of harassment and insulting women are just so sad, they only make her a second class citizen.
And shame on all those who work in media and spread such speech through the different TV channels, and hide behind a fake religious curtain to inject the society with their poison.”
Finally, he concludes:
“Without severe legal punishment and strict security dealing with those criminals and all who spread the rotten patriarchal justifications, we will not get rid of the catastrophe of humiliating women… all women .. in Egypt!”
As for hope? I guess there is a small one, with men like Hamzawy, and others who are against sexual harassment. Even here, this still seems somewhat weird to me; they are against harassment but they expect men to react alone, to transform into Hulks to protect women, which is abnormal, not to mention so demeaning to women.
I still appreciate their refusal to accept the crime of harassment, but I really resent how they look at the whole situation from the position of an all-man world where women have no say, no power, and no actual right to defend themselves and demand being defended by official security.
Not only do I not care what society thinks or appreciates, I know next time someone tries anything I’ll make an example out of him, so sit tight, ‘cause I think I’ll have more to tell you!