Sexual harassment in Egypt has reached plague proportions. To combat the relentless attack on women’s rights—mainly the right to not be physically and emotionally molested—a group of creative women launched a new website last year called HarassMap.org, which encourages female victims of sexual assault to report the abuse via SMS, Twitter, e-mail or phone. The location of the incident is then plotted on a map.
“When an incident happens, they will send us their location,” says Rebecca Chiao, co-founder of HarassMap. “We will map [the incident] on a Google map of Egypt. It will show the hotspots. When the hotspots emerge, we have planned community outreach that will occur around these hotspots.”
Rampage after Ramadan
Downtown Cairo is one hotspot. In 2008, during the Eid holiday, which marks the end of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, gangs of young men went on a rampage, groping women and, in some cases, ripping off their shirts.
Obviously, all that fasting and praying did not enlighten a man’s duty to respect a woman and honor her basic human right to walk the streets without fear of having her body groped, slapped, tweaked—in one word, molested.
Punched over politics
HarassMap went online before the recent Egyptian revolution and before CBS correspondent Laura Logan spent an agonizing 20 minutes being sexually assaulted and beaten.
It seems some Egyptian men feel the only way to celebrate a religious holiday or political coup is to treat women like punching bags. Mariam Nekiwi was another victim of rampant joy on the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president.
Los Angeles Times correspondent Bob Drogin described Nekiwi’s ordeal:
“First someone grabbed her groin, she said. Other hands groped the rest of her body, pinching hard and yanking at her clothes. She was shoved one way and then the other. The frenzy was so sudden, the crush so stifling, that she could barely see. She shouted, and then screamed. The reaction was swift.
“People started yelling at me to be quiet,” recalled Nekiwi, a 24-year-old video editor, still shaken by the ordeal. “They said: ‘Don’t tarnish the revolution. Don’t make a scene.’ They said: ‘We are men. We’re sorry. Just go now.’ “
That’s an excuse? “We are men?”
“We are disgusting slugs” would have been a more accurate description—though still not an excuse for reprehensible behavior.
And then they blame the victim. “Don’t tarnish the revolution.” Don’t make a scene, Mariam. We insolent men can make a disgusting scene–grab your private parts! But you—an abused woman—may not.
Female = abused
It is documented that in Egypt women of every nationality, religion, economic status, education level, marital status, size, shape, eye color, hair color—covered or uncovered—are subject to blatant sexual overtures and outright abuse by Egyptian males.
Walking on the street, standing in crowded buses, at work struggling to earn a living, in school aiming for an education—even seeking medical care in doctors’ offices—women in Egypt can count on having their breasts fondled and their groins tweaked by strangers. At any time a carload of young men might race by shouting, “Sharmouta” (whore in Arabic).
You call this flirting?
A friend of CNN producer Mary Rogers, herself the victim on at least two occasions of physical and verbal sexual harassment, tells the story of a friend walking on the street, who suddenly found a car hurtling toward her—aiming for her. At the last minute the driver swerved, then stopped and laughed at her. She learned later it was a form of flirting.
Wouldn’t you just be giddy with all that attention? Wouldn’t your heart just go pitter-pat?
I recently finished reading a translation of The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz, published in 1956-1957. The answer to Mary Rogers question, “Why is sexual harassment in Egypt so rampant?” is in this book.
It opens with “the wife”—she doesn’t have a name—waking up at midnight to greet her husband, who’s been out drinking and screwing. She has to help him undress, sit as his feet and ask him how his day went—oh, yes, I think she also brought him tea.
This woman hasn’t been out of her house in 25 years. Her only view of the world—the street outside her door—is from a latticed balcony.
What’s hidden from view becomes most desired. How an Egyptian man treats it when he finds it needs quite a bit of community outreach.