It is important to remember the well-publicized sexual assault of journalist Lara Logan in Cairo. But what people may not realize is that rape is being used as a weapon of war in Libya. According to an interview with Dr. Suleiman Refadi, condoms and Viagra have been found on the dead bodies of Gaddafi’s soldiers, an indication, according to Dr. Refadi, that these men were “surely” going to rape women.
As evidenced in Bosnia and Rwanda — and going back to antiquity, when the Old Testament describes the rape of the women of conquered tribes as a routine act — sexual violence during warfare is nothing new. Perhaps because women have played active roles in the Libyan rebellion (not to mention other Arab revolutions) they are being systematically humiliated by the Libyan state. One of these victims is Eman al-‘Obeidy, who claims she was raped by Muammar Gaddafi’s security forces. According to Nadya Khalife, the Middle East women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch: “Libyan authorities have further victimized al-‘Obeidy by refusing to let her leave Tripoli. They should ensure that she can leave Tripoli at once to receive supportive medical and psychological care, following the trauma she experienced.”
Al-‘Obeidy was freed from custody after she was examined by a doctor. In two phone interviews with Anderson Cooper on April 4th, she reported that Libyan men poured alcohol in her eyes and used rifles to sodomize her when she was detained at a Tripoli checkpoint — a frightening example of brutality.
In an April 3 phone interview with the recently established satellite Qatari-based satellite channel Qanat Libya al Ahrar, al-‘Obeidy expressed her desire to return to her family in Tobruk, as she has received death threats from Libyan authorities. Since reporting the rape to journalists, al’Obeidy has been prevented from leaving three times by government forces.
But what of the current situation in Egypt? The brutal assault of Lara Logan assault notwithstanding, the streets are safer than ever for Egyptian women. A 2008 study found that 83 percent of Egyptian women had been sexually harassed. Of the 62 percent of men who admitted to harassing women, 53 percent of men blamed women for “bringing it on themselves,” an all too-familiar excuse for women the world over. However, the women interviewed by Slate’s Sarah A. Topol had positive things to say about their experience in helping to topple Mubarak, with many women reporting that Tahrir Square felt like a “family,” despite attacks from police and government goons.
Topol interviews women as diverse as psychologist Nazly Hussein, teacher and Muslim Brotherhood member Mariam and American University graduate Gigi Ibrahim, each of whom reported positive experiences. Hussein, for one, reports apologies from jostling protesters. “It was, ‘I’m sorry, excuse me…I’m thinking: ‘Excuse me’? Where was that yesterday? And the year before? And the year before that?” As for Mariam, who did not want her last named used for the interview, says that despite the gender inequality in the Muslim Brotherhood, her comrades knew that, “There were a lot of women there; without them we couldn’t show this complete view-that people demonstrating against the government were not only men or only Muslim Brothers, or only activists. No, it was all of Egypt.”
Egyptian-American Ibrahim, a veteran of protests, reports positive changes as well. As she says, “Women were pivotal and had as important of a role just like the men in this whole revolution. They led chants; they told people go to that side or that side during the fighting.”
Although the future of Libya and Egypt — not to mention other Middle East states — remains uncertain, one thing is clear: women must play a key role in creating lasting political change.