|Written by Cecilia Toledo|
|Wednesday, 31 July 2013 00:54|
One of the highlightsthat demonstrate the revolution strength in Egypt is the overwhelming participation of women. Even covered with veils, they attend massively to the streets, shouting and confronting the police. This fact gives a higher quality to the movements because, being the most oppressed and exploited sector, the women broaden the demands in the struggle: not only overthrow the president, but also transforming the whole society. The presence of women shows that the Egyptian revolution is a revolution that has come to stay, and even with the establishment of a new government, this revolution is willing to go on until the end.
Advancement and backwardness meet in Tahrir Square
In a country where 80% of women have already suffered some kind of sexual abuse and 60% of men admit having committed some, according to the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR), it would be a vain hope to believe that in the huge street demonstrations against government women would be spared by the protesters. It would also be naive to think that the military forces and the government would not resort to the prejudice against women in order to weaken the struggles and try to put the media and the whole world against them. As it is often the case in wars, rape has become a war weapon in the hands of the threatened ruling classes to disqualify opponents and humiliate the combatants. In Egypt rape has already become a weapon as or more powerful than the police bombs.
One of the mostastounding cases was the case of Yasmine el Baramawy, raped by a group of men in November in Tahrir Square. “From the first minute I was in the square I found myself in the middle of 200 men, naked and helpless. They grabbed me from all sides, as if I were an object,” says Yasmine. Shethought she would die, and she could not have the slightest idea of how many men were raping her. A car stopped a few inches from her head, trapping her hair. “Having my hair trappedhelped them to lift my legs and penetrate me, as I kept thrown on the ground. I had no idea on how to keep on fighting. Without stopping to injure me, they stuck a hood over my head and threw me in a car, naked. They carried me to another neighborhood, where more men surrounded me, carrying knives, sticks and chains. “There, the violation continued for one more hour.
Two months later, Yasmine found the strength to go on television and denounce everything she endured and the terrifying reality of Egypt today.
It was a courageous actof Yasmine, go to the TV channels to denounce the aggressors, but the government has not lifted a finger to defend her and thus her action could not prevent the rape of hundreds of women in the demonstrations that continue to occupy the Egyptian streets and squares.
Howeverin Egypt, the revolution is in the streets, and all the forces have been using their arsenal. The large participation of women in the demonstrations that brought down the dictator Mubarak drew the Government’s attention and led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to adopt a deliberate policy to try to keep control over the situation. This policy consists of using sexual violence against women in anattempt to divide the masses and weaken the demonstrations.
Right now, in the most recent fights that brought down Morsi, one of the most obscure tactics of the Mubarak times have been risen, that is, the use of violence against women as a political and ideological tool. “The government is giving money to some organized gangs demanding them to invade demonstrations and harm women sexually as a way to silence them,” says Magda Adly, director of the Nadeem Center for Human Rights. Several news reports and videos made by women’s organizations show the verity of these facts, they are true; aggressors themselves have confirmed that for only US$ 30 they violate women with the objective of withdrawing them from the demonstrations. All of that has beenconfirmed to The Times newspaper and is also in a documentary titled Sex, Mobs and Revolution.
As much is thusthat the attacks follow a set pattern: men surround their prey saying they are doing it to protect them. “They form a ring around you and prevent others from seeing what is happening there,” says Yasmine. “There is no one to defend you. Then they start to spread rumors among the rest of the demonstration that you are a criminal, who was carrying a bomb. If someone tries to defend you He/she is attacked.” (The video testimony from Yasmine is at http://es.sott.net/article/21859-El-infierno-de-ser-mujer-en-Egipto?)
Therepeating of the patterns suggests that they are organized. Moreover, the sexual assaults in Tahrir Square and its vicinity are distinct from those that occur in the streets, in households, and in public transport. Therefore, they are regarded as “sexual terrorism” by Human Rights Watches.
OnJanuary 25, when it completed two years of the revolution, more than twenty women were raped in Tahrir Square, according to the National Council of Women. Two of them had their genitals mutilated with knives.
Sexual violenceas a political tactic
Sexual violenceas a political tactic was widely used by the Mubarak government. In the prisons and police stations, sexual violence against prisoners was commonplace. When the demonstrations started asking the head of the dictator, he gotinfuriated and began using this same tactic against women as a way to undermine the protests. In 2005 there was a collective sexual assault against women, when a group of “baltageya” (mercenaries paid by the Ministry of Interior to destroy the demonstrations) attacked several women in a protest in Cairo. After this fact sexual assaults has become a tactic of the dictatorship, which has been used on a daily basis.
Themilitary forces who have taken power after Mubarak’s fall improved this tactic. In March 2011, the military policemen arrested 18 women in an operation to clear Tahrir Square. The women were detained for four days and subjected to sexual abuse by the military men. Then they were subjected to the so-called “virginity test” which miraculously proved they were virgins and thus those women were prevented from claiming that they had been raped.
TheUN Office for Gender Equality and Empowerment of women turns a blind eye. Such Agency updates the data of barbarism, saying that last year nearly all the women in Egypt – 99.3% – have suffered sexual harassment, but takes no action. The UN does not use its power to charge from the Egyptian authorities measures to protect women and thereby, they are leaving women without any defense mechanisms apart from themselves and the solidarity they receive from the protesters themselves, who organize themselves to protect them.
Are the victimsguilty?
Tothe Muslim religion, women are forbidden to express their opinions; they are allowed only to repeat, like a parrot, her husband’s opinions. This is only possible when such a woman is fortunate enough to get to know her husband’s views, because most men think that women are not intelligent enough to understand the world. She just has the ability to obey.
Therefore,women who are coming together in the squares in order to struggle are actually expressing their own opinion, even if her husband is also there. This woman, shouting out and agitating like all protesters do, is regarded by the clergymen as a person who no longer has the control over herself, as a stray woman, so a whore.
Thismedieval idea is the same which led countless women to the stake by the Inquisition, regarded as witches because they had some scientific knowledge especially Chemistry. Knowing that it was forbidden to the women, the witches who practiced “magics” and manufactured healing potions would be aware that they would be burned at the stake.
It was thesame line of argument which led Morsi’s government to establish a legislative body called the Council of Shuria, whose judges are instructed to conduct any investigation so that the responsibility for the sexual abuse at the demonstrations falls entirely upon women. Recently General Adel Afifi, one of the seniors’ graduates of the Egyptian Armed Forces, declared that “women know that they are among violent men and being so they have to protect themselves instead ofasking the Interior Ministry to do so. If they engage in these circumstances, women are 100% responsible for any violence committed against them”.
Violence against women is deeply rooted in society, for decades, and it was already very serious during Mubarak government but it was aggravated even further under Morsi’s and underthe Armed Forces’ transitional governments.
Thereligious preaching is so strong and impunity for perpetrators is so brazen, that very few cases actually come to court. According to the Ministry of the Interior, in 2008, 55women were raped daily, most of them indoors.
“How can you ask the Minister of the Interior to protect women if they, the women, are surrounded by men?” asks Saleh al Hefnawi, from the Muslim Brotherhood in the Parliament. This question, asked by a clergyman, inserts the horrible conclusion that society led by the Armed Forces is forming animals and not men. Otherwise, what would be the meaning of this question? Why could not a woman be surrounded by men without being harassed and abused? In the clergy’s view, if women stay at home and fulfill the sharia precepts they are not going to awaken the sexual instincts in men. In no time he questioned what’s in front of his nose: why are men unable to control their sexual instincts?
The factis that in a society built on an sexist ideology where men do not admit that his power may be questioned, where working-class women are nothing but slaves to ensure all the housework and child care, besides entering the social production outside home when they are confiscated by the labor market, that clergymen’s argument does not hold a single minute. Accusing a woman of awakening the male instinct is a way to accuse her of wanting to break the bonds of ownership that keeps her arrested to her husband, is a way to accuse her of wanting to break through the chains that bind her legs.
This argumentis so groundless that it falls apart before the government’s own statistics. The government statistics show that sexual harassment and rape against women have very little to do with clothing or religion of the victims. “In fact, most women who suffer harassment are wearing the nijab” (veil covering the head, face, and almost the entire body), says Yasmine, citingdata that confirm the research done by ECWR.
In Egyptthere will be no revolution without the women participation
In therecent demonstrations, violence against women was a response of the authorities to the struggles’ strength. This strength was also demonstrated in the organizational bodies created by volunteers, men and women, against sexual harassment. They communicated over the Internet, exchanged instructions on how to proceed and denounced the offenders. The motto of the organization was “In Egypt there will be no revolution without the women participation”. Self-defense groups have alsospread in the country. These groups have patrolled the streets wearing lab coats with reflective paint and helmets in order to tackle the organized gangs. On the other hand, thousands of women have been trying to do self-defense courses to learn how to protect themselves from the attacks and how to handle weapons.
Duringthe months in which the military junta has taken power, the women situation has deteriorated, mainly for two reasons. The first is that the authorities have not taken any measures to prevent abuses and to punish the men who attacked women in the demonstrations, thus setting off a multiplying effect. Second, when there is not either any kind of measure to protect the women, or any kind of punishment for male aggressors, the situation tends to worsen. “So much so that many women have already thought of going out armed with knives or pocket knives, as a way of self-defense”, says Yasmine.
One cannotrule out that in big events like these sexist attacks occur, especially in a country where, for centuries, the masses are subjected to all kinds of reactionary ideology, that the value of a man is far greater than the value of a women, and the backward religious precepts, in accordance with which women are the property of men and must take cover behind veils so that she does not exercise his “evil tempting power on masculinity”.
All theseconceptions, which imprison the masses in the most harmful backwardness’ prisons, based on lies enshrined as truths for centuries by the ruling classes will not be overcome automatically in the revolutionary process that is sweeping Egypt. This is just one of the many tasks of the revolution, i.e. to overcome in the working masses consciousness all kinds of prejudice, especially the myth of male superiority. However, we cannot wait idly, the situation becomes increasingly serious and we need to take concrete measures to protect women through self-defense organizations integrated by workers, men and women.
Theclerical argumentation about female submission has beenbeing buried by the own Egyptian revolution. If their arguments were consistent, they would be managing to convince women to stay at home and thereby, the demonstrations would lose half of its participants, which would have been a victory for the government and for the clergy.
But it is notwhat has been happening, at least so far. Egyptian women are not getting intimidated. We have learned from them that even the most atrocious oppression cannot prevent us from fighting for a better world. We have learned from them that the ruling classes’ arrangements to keep women in the darkness, in marginality and in slavery may be destroyed by the revolution in the streets, where nothing remains standing up when they are taken by the masses.
Do not placeany trust in the new government and continue fighting. This has to be the flag of the masses in Egypt today, because only with the working class in power – men and women – it will be possible to achieve a better life and the end of all forms of oppression.