Post-revolutionary Egypt is still a sausage fest. When women gathered in Tahrir Square — the symbol of Egyptians’ self-initiated political liberation — they were attacked by more than 200 men. Women were forced to the ground, dragged out of the crowd, groped and sexually harassed while the police and military watched with indifference.
The reason for the demonstration? International Women’s Day. Journalist Jumanah Younis was among the women protesting against, in her words, “Egypt’s chronic sexual harassment problem, against the many barriers women face in public life and against the pervasive conservatism that curtails the freedom on women in society at large.”
According to Younis, “The women’s chants calling for an ‘Egypt for all Egyptians’ were drowned out by retaliations such as ‘No to freedom!’ shouted by opposing groups. The men charged at the female protesters, who had been standing on a raised platform in the middle of Tahrir Square, and shouted: ‘Get out of here.'”
Journalist Younis, along with five other women, remained on the platform while a group of sympathetic men formed a protective a circle. Younis herself endured the indignity of being groped and having her clothes pulled at. Another woman was subjected to having a man put his hand down her shirt, while still another was forced to the ground and pinned down by a man. While she was being assaulted, police simply continued to direct traffic.
As Widney Brown writes in “Is the Egyptian Revolution Sidelining Women?” one hundred years after the first International Women’s Day took place in Europe, “…women are still much more likely to be poor. They are more likely to be illiterate. They earn only ten per cent of the world’s income but do two thirds of the world’s work. They produce up to 80 per cent of the food in developing countries but own only one per cent of the land.”
Moreover, as Brown writes, “Many governments — including many from the West — still only seem to support women’s rights when it’s convenient.” After all, women’s liberation was and is a key argument in the war against Afghanistan. One need only remember Bibi Aisha’s mutilated face on the cover of TIME with the words “What Will Happen If We Leave Afghanistan?” to see that. (Never mind that her disfigurement — and other instances of violence against women — took place under U.S. occupation.)
Yet, as Brown adds, “When negotiations with the Taliban seem like a good step, suddenly women’s rights don’t matter so much. When they need Pakistan as an ally, they accept the Pakistani government giving autonomy to regions of the country where women are utterly victimized by the parallel legal system. And alliances are made in Iraq with militias that in their spare time attack and kill women’s rights activists.”
As Brown continues, “Most recently, a new national committee formed to write the new Egyptian constitution was composed only of men. This is not acceptable.” The very men who were once oppressed have assumed the role of oppressor. Egyptian women, many of whom expected democracy, are now subjected to phallocracy.