Maybe it’s an intentional attempt to break the reform movement, or maybe it’s just evidence of an instinctual male fear of losing societal supremacy, but in either case, women are being targeted in ugly assaults in Cairo, Associated Press reports. Too blatant even to be ironic, A.P, reported that “a mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday,” with the attackers overwhelming the group’s male guardians “and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.”
The report notes that “the ferocity of the assault,” suggested to some that it may have “been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement.”
One march participant said a close female friend of his was attacked by a mob of men in Tahrir Square in January and was only able to escape in an ambulance. She later reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown and left Cairo altogether. “Women activists are at the core of the revolution,” the man said. “They are the courage of this movement. If you break them, you break the spirit of the revolution.”
And maybe that’s what this is all about — a mad, desperate attempt to teach women the lesson that it isn’t safe to rock the ancient gender-role boat. The most recent attack follows recent smaller assaults on women in Tahrir, “the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year,” A.P. reported. Thousands have been protesting all sorts of stuff in the square lately, but none seem to turn as violently ugly as the ones directed against women.
Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before men trying to help could reach her, according to the report. The most recent march, involving some 50 women protesters and a larger group of male supporters who formed a protective ring around them, was called to demand an end to sexual assaults, A.P. reported. They carried posters and chanted “The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric,” A.P. reported.
And as if to prove them right, “after the marchers entered a crowded corner of the square, a group of men waded into the women, heckling them and groping them. The male supporters tried to fend them off, and it turned into a melee involving a mob of hundreds,” according to the report. Marchers tried to flee while the attackers chased them and male supporters tried to protect them, according to the report.
But the attackers cornered several women including an Associated Press reporter, against a metal sidewalk railing, “shoving their hands down their clothes and trying to grab their bags.” The male supporters reportedly fought back, with belts and fists, and threw water. Eventually, the women finally got out to safety, the story notes.
The story said “the persistence of the attack raised the belief of many that it was intentional, though who orchestrated it was unclear.” But of course it was intentional — one doesn’t accidentally chase people and molest them. The question is whether there’s an agenda behind it — if it’s a means to an end, or the end in itself. One 25 year-old female cinema student who took part in the march, reportedly said “sexual harassment will only take us backward,” and suggested, “this is pressure on the woman to return home.”
She was not alone. One young male medical student who was there, calling the attacks an “obscene act in society,” said “some people think it is targeted to make women hate coming here.” Evidently, assaults on women are fairly common in Egypt, at least in Cairo, though there was a temporary lull during the 18-day uprising against Mubarak last year, the report notes. The resurgence of sexual attacks on women in Tahrir “have been a demoralizing turn for Egypt’s protest movement,” it says. Women have been “leading activists, protesters, medics and even fighters” in the uprising, but they have also been targeted, “both by mobs and by military and security forces,” A.P. reports. One might recall an American woman CBS correspondent who was sexually assaulted by a frenzied mob in Tahrir on the day Mubarak stepped down.
Another infamous image “of the post-Mubarak state violence against women,” is a video of troops stripping a woman’s top off and stomping her chest with their boots, as she was pulled by her arms across the ground. A 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights says two-thirds of Egypt’s women experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis, so obviously, some large percentage of Egyptian men believe they have the right to behave this way.
Whether or not these assaults on female protesters is part of that or comes from a different place remains to be seen. It could be something more like what drove the attacks against suffragists in this country in 1917, when scores of them were stripped of their clothing, beaten and force-fed via nasal tubing when they called a hunger strike. One woman died, one suffered a heart attack, and one sustained a fractured skull.
However, this wound up turning public opinion toward the women’s suffrage movement, becoming a turning point in the battle for the 19th Amendment. So, maybe what Egypt’s women are suffering will eventually lead to positive change, but Egyptians are not Americans and the Middle East is not the United States, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here