Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What's the use of one more blog post?

Over the years this blog has become less personal and more of an outlet for current events in Egypt or socio-political commentary, sometimes based on personal experience.

This post will be very personal.

The tweet read, “All I could see was leering faces . . sneering & jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions”.

Another woman attacked in Tahrir Square. I knew without opening the attached link. I opened it anyway. I didn’t want to read the story; I had to.

The most detailed first-person account of a sexual attack in Tahrir I’ve ever read. That’s what was in the link. I was sitting in a noisy café listening to – of all things – a song called “Past the Point of No Return.” I turned it off, and I read.

I was stripped naked… Hundreds of men… forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way… A small minority of men… tried to protect me… I felt surprisingly calm… Please God. Please make it stop… Women surrounded me and tried to cover my naked body… The men outside… wanted my blood… I was barefoot, dodging broken glass… We eventually… reached a government hospital… we were turned away… “Are you married? A virgin?”… I was refused examination and treatment.

An hour later I can’t get her words out of my head.

What if it had been me?

I was physically harassed once during the 30 months I’ve spent in Cairo. In comparison it was nothing. Yet a year and a half later I refuse to go anywhere in Maadi by myself because the memory makes me ill and nervous (Maadi has the highest concentration of Western foreigners of any neighborhood in Cairo).

It unnerved me enough that this is only the third time I’ve ever mentioned the incident.

I may not be blonde, but I’m young and pretty with fair skin and light eyes. I speak enough Arabic to talk to a cab driver but no more. Sure, I’m good at reading crowds. I’ve been going to Egyptian demonstrations longer than most Egyptians. Yes, I’ve actually taken a class on risk management.

But the crowd can change in a moment.

I’m not infallible. Gut instinct is not infallible. What if, wanting that one last photo, I stayed just a minute too long? What if the situation changed too quickly for me to get away? What if I got caught up in a conversation and didn’t notice the crowd shift?

What if, what if, what if.

They’re useless but I can’t get them out of my head. I keep picturing myself – graphically – in this woman’s position. I picture my reflection in the mirror. It’s terrifying.

 I love Egypt. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. There are things I hate but I’m still here and I don’t want to leave. At the same time, I came to Egypt as a journalist and I haven’t gone to Tahrir Square in weeks.

I tell myself I’m being lazy, that I should go down and take some pictures and judge the feel of the crowd for myself. After all, I was in Tahrir Square on the 25th and the 28th of January. I was by Maspiro the night dozens were killed in clashes between Coptic Christian demonstrators and the military. I was in Mohamed Mahmoud Street choking on tear gas alongside Egyptian men and women last November.

But as more and more women report graphic sexual assaults in Tahrir I’m terrified I’ll be next. I loathe that fear almost more than I loathe the fact that the fear is warranted.

I remember going to Tahrir and not being touched by a single man, except honest-to-goodness accidents. The last few weeks, I don’t know a single female who has gone to Tahrir without being groped at least once.

So what do I do? Stay safely in Zamalek and talk politics with my friends? Offer opinions on the “current situation” without actually going out in the streets, something I love? Pack up and move somewhere I can wear skirts and sleeveless shirts without a leering man with a disgusting comment on every single street corner?

Scratch that option. Recent statistics show at least 1 in 6 college-age men in America will admit to raping a woman in anonymous surveys, so long as the word ‘rape’ is left out of the definition (“rape” is defined by the insertion of any object into any orifice of the body without consent).

Anyone who knows me knows if there’s one thing I’m not, it’s helpless. Yet against this I am utterly and completely helpless. It’s frustrating and infuriating and I feel I’m losing a battle I have no idea how to fight.

I almost didn’t post this. I thought, what’s the use of one more blog post? But we cannot doubt the power of our own voices. Eventually it will be that one pissed off woman outing her harasser in the street, that one man jumping between a woman and her attacker, maybe even that one angry blog post that tips the balance.

If we – men and women – stay silent, we will lose. So be loud. Be insistent. Make a scene and refuse to be silenced and we will win.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Whitney,
    Thanks for the comment. Cairo can be tough to live in, but rewarding as well. Enjoy your break and good luck to you, as well, once you're back in this crazy city. :)

  3. When have visited Cairo for the first time, have understood that life in this ancient city in reality is much the same as it is in any other cities of the world. People get up in the morning, go to school or work, have meals with their family, spend time with their friends.. they do much the same as your family does.

  4. every blog is useful, it shows to people about the horrific sexual abuze that exists in our country. T myself ignored that the situation was that horrible and prevelant. Now when i walk in the streets -and i am a man- i suspect that everyone is a harasser so i can't imagine how women feel especially those who had experienced it. now one of my goals in life is to catch one of these filthy animal kick his ass then sending him to jail.

  5. Thank u for ur courage and take care. join marches it's much safer and better atmosphere. Don't let any1 of these animal get to u( all women).

  6. I know how you feel. I have fantasies of using a shotgun on people (harassers) as I cross the bridge, where it always seems worse. In my mind I watch them fall over the side but sometimes I push them, too. And then I wonder why I stay when I'm driven to these horribly violence revenge fantasies.

  7. Tahrir square should be renamed To Raper's Square.
    I can't respect any man who was present and didn't die fighting the mob.

  8. Thank you for sharing this with us. I respect the way you expressed yourself here, because you expressed it without having to go about how horrible the Egyptian society and Egyptian men are, like most do when they are subjected to such incidents.

    I understand how it can be to go through these experiences and I understand the amount of rage one can have after going through all of that. But - being an Egyptian - I can't help feeling judged and "stereotyped" every time I hear all about how horrible Egyptians are. I hope that didn't sound selfish that I am feeling offended to hear the rage of an assaulted woman. As I said, I do understand the rage and I feel it myself towards those who did it even just by reading it.

    I feel sorry, angry and ashamed.. every time I hear about sexual harassment in general and in Egypt specifically. I wish there were someway to stop this from happening or at least limit it. Having the law punish those responsible for these assaults, is one thing we need to work on but it's not enough. First of all, those who will make sure this law is being enforced are men who in fact sometimes make it hard for women who seek their help. Second comes the fact that the position of women in general in Egypt needs more empowerment and without more equality in different fields, the problem will still exist.

    Thank you again. Keep writing :)