The talking heads on sexual harassment

Posted on November 20, 2006


Mildly interesting remarks on sexual harassment in Egypt I know I harp on about this a lot, but it’s really endangering women’s daily safety and freedom, probably more than anything else. From: Corrected for grammar by myself, I might add.

Nihad Abu Qumsan, head of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights was the first speaker. Her main premise was that incidents of harassment have been on the rise ever since May 25, 2005, the day pro-government groups publicly harassed female protestors. “Why? Because it was used as a political tool, a psychological barrier was lifted from people’s heads; it made it easier to do,” she said.

Qumsan added that the number of sexual harassment complaints her center has received since that day has increased alarmingly. “We have received many and strange complaints,” she said. “It has become more serious, the actions are becoming more physical.” Qumsan dismissed the notion that what a woman wears determines the chances of harassment. “Girls in conservative dress are being harassed at public bus stations in mid afternoon. Judging from the number and type of complaints we are receiving, all the stereotypes have been dismissed,” she said.

A contributing factor to all this is that the police here are geared more towards political activities rather than societal ones, according to Qumsan. “Harassment can happen within the police station itself [if a woman files a complaint],” she said.The police are not interested in following up complaints of this nature.”

Interesting. I wouldn’t have thought it had increased since May I mean, a lot of people around Egypt don’t really believe accounts of police brutality (well, not nice middle class people), let alone take example from them. I do think sexual harassment is worse than it was before I moved here for good, though. I don’t think anyone asked me in times past how much money I charged when I was standing in a suburban street, hailing a taxi, wearing a business suit at 8 a.m. no less. But if the woman says so, I guess it’s true she’s very thorough from all accounts. It‘s frightening. The bit about the clothes is utterly true though, and the more people who realize it the better, as I‘m dead sick of hearing about women deserving it and the like from the most educated parties. Have volunteered at ECWR by the way, and they said the best thing to do was to encourage women to send in accounts of incidents that happened to them, so that they might amass enough empirical evidence to back up their campaign.

Journalist Nabil Sharaf El-Din was up next and he was adamant that the events of the Eid did happen. He said that the prioritizing of political police work over criminal police work was behind the incidents. El-Din, a policeman himself for 15 years, said, “All the reasons stem from the political problems we face here. It is a governmental problem.” El Din also lambasted the religious movement in Egypt, describing its adherents as people who “justify those in power and the rich” and “who have not helped create a minimal standard of ethics.”

El-Din did not mince words. “The kids who did this [the harassment] I’m sure are the same ones who watch [famed Muslim televangelist] Amr Khaled and pray taraweeh [extra prayers performed after the evening prayers in Ramadan].” He added, “Religious hysteria and sexual hysteria are two sides of the same coin. Instead of obsessing about how girls act and what they wear, they should be worrying about corruption and poverty and what to do about it.”

Lebanese writer and sociologist Dr Dalal El-Bizry also touched on the religious theme in her speech. “Religion has hegemony over people’s minds in the Arab world … and this mentality is a fundamentalist one,” she said. Religion in the Arab world “is not spiritual, it’s marketing and this leads to a duality that results in the sort of incidents we have witnessed,” she added.

I don’t agree with this. I don’t think it is a result of Egypt’s political problems, unless he means by that the unwillingess of the government to properly prosecute crimes against women and their own involvement in such crimes. But as for some sort of general political malaise manifesting itself in violence against women, that’s bullshit. Egypt has been crap for a long time, and it’s definite that women were safer during crap times before.

As for religion, I‘d like to believe that those bearded youths who nearly break their necks trying not to look at me haven’t suddenly abandoned their stance. I do, of course, think that more focus should be placed on curing economic and social ills than on the mayhem loose women apparently wreak on society, but I don’t think that true piety can co-exist with depravity. Of course, there are fakers galore out there, and many women have been sexually harassed by men coming out of mosques on Fridays with their guilt erased, refreshed for another week of sin.

El-Bizry added that this harassment is not just caused by religious or political complications, but is also the result of an existentialist dilemma between the two genders. This is due to lack of vision for the future and a lack of hope, which are pervasive throughout the Arab world. She mentioned the Arab-Israeli conflict as a reflection of this. “Our Arab-Israeli problem is one of identity. And this creates otherness, eventually we ascribe this otherness amongst ourselves, and that is the case between men and women [in the region], where there is resentment and bitterness between them.”

This is a load of bullshit. Fucking Egyptian lefties and their issue conflation.

Posted in: politics, religion