Sexual harassment and attacks on women in Egypt were a problem before the January 25 revolution, but in the two years since the Arab Spring came to Cairo, the problem has grown worse.
Violent assaults – groping, stripping and rapes have become increasingly frequent at the heart of the uprising, Tahrir Square.
Sexual assault in Egypt, activists say, has become a weapon of war against women. Many have long stayed silent, but not anymore.
One of those making their voices heard is Ragia Omran, a prominent lawyer, human rights activist, and feminist. She talks to Al Jazeera about the women abused in Egypt, the role of women, and why she refuses to stay silent.
“It is everywhere. Look at the US rape by minute is crazy. Our society uses that as an excuse. There are a lot of girls veiled and they will still get harassed. I do not agree to that idea. People spoke out, it is not an excuse. It could be anyone … The political Islamic groups do have a role in preventing women and other groups from going out and protesting against the policies.”
– Ragia Omran, a lawyer and human rights activist
“Egyptian women have always historically participated in public life … not only as protesters but also defending people. The role of women threatens. We are in a patriarchal society. Women are a big part of the group demanding more rights, there is a strong sense of women empowerment, however the society is not accepting that.
“If we look at the discourse used by the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime towards women … it is all related to sexuality and the body. It is never related to issues of equal pay … these tapes you mentioned that has become an epidemic is part of the plan to get different groups of people not to participate in Tahrir. It is very alive and it will not stop,” says Omran.
On January 25, 2013, during the commemorations of the second anniversary of the movement that toppled Hosni Mubarak, there were at least 19 reported cases of attacks on women in and around Tahrir Square.
Omran explains the impact the attacks are having on Egyptians: “Activists and bystanders managed to record some harrowing videos of how the attackers swarmed their victims.
“There could be groups that do that to make the regime look bad. The thing is that if you look at the discourse, there was a discussion and the comments made are quite disappointing, why do they go to Tahrir? The TV channels say that kind of stuff and it is brainwashing to people. We do not have to defend who we are and why we are going down [there]. Even in the parliament the discussion about the laws giving power to women, there were discussions to get rid of them because people said it’s Suzanne Mubarak laws.”
Concerned citizens and activists have set up teams to try to protect female demonstrators because they do not trust the police to intervene.
But Omran remains hopeful: “There is a rising awareness … Egyptians are very active, to fight this. I don’t think it will get worse …. There has been a draft law. Hopefully legislation will pass.”
|Talk to Al Jazeera can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Saturday: 0430; Sunday: 0830, 1930; and Monday: 1430.|