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The price Egyptian women pay for justice

December 27, 2011

On Friday, a gigantic throng of demonstrators at Tahrir Square chanted slogans against the military rule. At the backdrop of this Friday’s protest, dubbed “the Friday of regaining honor,” is the violence female demonstrators have undergone last week, during clashes between the military police and the protestors.

On Saturday, Dec. 17, a student clothed in black from top to bottom was battered, dragged and kicked by the military police. The veiled female, who wants to remains anonymous, was left unconscious on the streets of Cairo with her abaya violently torn apart revealing her upper body. She was let go after other activist hurled stones at the armed forces in hopes to rescue her.

Amongst the people who tried to save her was Azza Hilal Suleiman, 48, who met the same fate as the veiled woman—if not worse. She has sustained two fractures to her skull.

"We tried to cover her and pull her away but they beat us,” said Suleiman to CNN. “I didn't feel anything after this."

Videos and photos of the brutality the unnamed woman was subjected to went viral on social media last week. The comments exemplified the frustration, disgust and despair that prevail amongst the Egyptian people, even after President Hosni Mubarak is ousted.

These violent beatings have shattered the image of the supreme council of armed forces (SCAF) that it had created during the revolution against Mubarak by following the policy of “no violence against the protesters.”

The veiled victim told a journalist who witnessed the atrocity that "it doesn't matter if I talk [to the media] or not, their stripping me is enough to reveal them [the army] and tell enough to those who still believe them."

During my visit to Egypt this year, shortly after Mubarak resigned, I came across a myriad of people from all walks of life that hailed the military for their sympathetic treatment towards the demonstrators. Some went as far as to say that the army sided with the people. It’s however true that the army focused on keeping peace and fighting the looters during the uprising.

But when Mubarak announced his resignation and the country broke into celebrations, SCAF quickly assumed power. Their attitudes towards the protestors started to change when the Egyptian people demanded speedy trials of the dictator, his family and his allies and it worsened when the people asked for quick transfer of power to civilians, who can ensure democracy in the country and bring justice to the Egyptian people as well as steer the economy in the right direction.

Maha al-Hindawy, a 37-year-old protestor in Cairo, said that the second phase of the Egyptian revolution can potentially “lead to a massacre.”

Egypt is a country where corruption is ubiquitous. The SCAF, nicknamed “supreme council of Mubaraks,” is perhaps as corrupt as the dictator who ruled the country for three decades, if not more. The only way to get rid of them, al-Hindawy says, is “by giving them a safe passage.”

While the Egyptian women I’ve talked with say that they’re not afraid of dying for the cause, they don’t want women stripped naked in public, endure physical violence, face humiliation of “virginity tests” and get harassed with cooked-up charges of prostitution.

“No woman wants this to happen to her,” said al-Hindawy. “I am scared of what will happen next. If the Egyptian army turns against the people, like Gaddafi forces did in Libya, women will suffer extreme violence, torture and rape.”

Egypt is a society where female honour is held high and this is why rape incidents go unreported. Even an unfounded rumor is enough to jeopardize a woman’s reputation. Knowing this, SCAF has included women in their “dirty game.”

Having friends who’ve served in the army, I know the standard operating procedure to curb a civil disturbance. A well-trained soldier will not react to an unarmed subject, who is not posing a potential threat, with violence. The rule of thumb is to gradually escalate force in this order: shout, show, shove, shoot. The fact that the military police were going berserk, hammering both men and women, is sufficient reason to believe that they were following orders from the top.

Those who thought that the military police played a positive role in unseating Mubarak may have cause to re-evaluate their position.

On Feb. 1, the day before Mubarak’s horse and camel-riding allies charged into the protestors in the liberation square, al-Hindawy recalls that the army was present, surrounding the area. It beggars belief that pro-Mubarak thugs attacked thousands of protestors in the span of 10 hours without the army’s knowledge and consent. If the army knowingly let women and children suffer the atrocities by the paid mob, a “massacre” in the future that al-Hindawy fears is not implausible.

Lest we forget, on March 9, after Mubarak was ousted, 18 women were detained by the military police. And according to the Amnesty International’s report, these female protestors “were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to virginity tests.”

The army had denied allegations of virginity checks on detainees picked from Tahrir Square, but couple of months later a general admitted and defended the practice while speaking to CNN.

"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," said the general. "None of them were (virgins)."

From this, it’s obvious that the female protestors who were in the forefront of the Egyptian revolution have yet to fight a more difficult battle to strip away the patriarchal mindset.

While I was interviewing al-Hindawy on skype, she received a joke on her Blackberry that exemplifies that the change in Egypt is purely cosmetic:

“Question: Why isn’t SCAF looking at what happened with Mubarak and be scared? Answer: What really happened with Mubarak.”

After this incident, Egyptians have come on the streets with renewed enthusiasm to reclaim the revolution.

“People who were sitting at home, watching protests on TV have now come out,” said al-Hindawy. “SCAF is trying to scare us away…[but] the numbers are only growing.”

One can only hope that the efforts of the Egyptian people to attain justice and democracy in their country is not wasted.

Fahad Faruqui is a journalist, writer and educator. Alumni Columbia University. You can email him at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.