Election day in the rural province of Minia, Upper Egypt. A procession of women in small painted tuk tuks rattle past farmers tilling fields of green sugarcane by the banks of the Nile. Many cradle babies and toddlers in their arms. They also clasp ID cards and slips of paper with their registration numbers, ready to vote. For the first time in Egypt’s history these women are free to elect a president without government interference, but for many, their political choices have been guided by influential men in their lives. Now that Egypt is emerging into democracy, is this set to change?

Although there is a tradition of more educated Egyptian women in urban centers, 58 percent of the population of Egypt live in rural areas and these women have much fewer opportunities to get educated. According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 50 percent of rural female households in Egypt are illiterate. The EIPR also records that only 40 percent of rural women in Upper Egypt have been educated.

“Rural women are much less educated and politically aware than men,” said Amira, a local teacher from the area. “This has made them easier for campaigns to manipulate than men.”

“We fear that the Muslim Brotherhood do not want to give women a role in political decision making or increase their awareness” says Fathi Farid, program manager of the human rights group ACT. He notes that of the 100- member Assembly appointed by the Islamist-dominated parliament to draft the constitution, only seven members are women. Legislation proposed in the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Parliament this year has also raised eyebrows. They include proposals to lower the marriage age for girls to 14 and to revoke the “khula law,” which grants a woman the right to ask for a divorce. “We fear that they will (…) try to marginalize them,” says Farid.

Despite these setbacks, Farid sees that if democracy continues, in the long term women’s rights in Egypt will improve. A girl growing up in Egypt now, as opposed to under a dictatorship, will have seen elections take place. Whoever is president, as elections continue, more and more women will recognize that they have a choice–a choice others don’t have the power to influence. Says Farid,

Once people realize this, women can start opening their mind and choosing for themselves. They will understand that they have rights, which are inalienable, they will have the opportunity to express their opinion.

The future presidents of Egypt will have to face a more politically aware and confident female population than ever before.


Tahrir Square Again: Violence And Sexual Assaults Against Female Demonstrators

Violence against women demonstrators in Egypt erupted again on Tuesday when a frenzied mob of 200 men sexually assaulted a female protester in Tahrir Square. Then, during a rally on Friday to protest the incident, about 50 women and their male allies were themselves brutalized and chased away by another mob.

Journalist Ghazala Irshad, who was on the scene Friday, says that just as the small anti-harassment protest was gathering steam, the atmosphere shifted. “A few guys were like, ‘Why are you talking about this, there are more important issues to talk about?’ [Then] some guys started saying the women protesting were whores.”

Next, a phalanx of outside men overwhelmed the protective circle of male allies and cornered and groped the women. Rally organizer Sally Zohney says, “[The violence] started with individual cases of assaults against women in the march [and] then turned into beating and chasing everyone involved. Even men were badly beaten and attacked. It was very brutal.”

Participants were forced to flee for their safety.

Sadly, the violent scene is just the latest of many. Since the military took power last February, countless women–including journalists Lara Logan, Mona Eltahawy and Caroline Sinz, Egyptian actor Sherihan and the “woman in the blue bra“–have been groped and sexually assaulted by men in Tahrir Square. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other women have experienced verbal sexual harassment in a place that is supposed to symbolize freedom.

The lack of safety for women in the square symbolizes, instead, just how little women have benefited from the revolution they helped create. While pre-revolutionary Egypt was notorious for street harassment–a 2008 study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR) found that over 80 percent of Egyptian women had experienced it–the 18-day uprising in January and February 2011 was an unprecedented moment in which women could move freely in public space. Women seized the chance to become key players in the protests. “In 3 weeks of revolution we experienced no sexual harassment by men,” one woman told the Israeli paper Haaretz. “What civilization emerged! What culture!”

But that swiftly changed. Marchers in an International International Women’s Day 2011 demonstration in Tahrir Square were violently attacked. Months of assaults on women protesters followed. Some of the perpetrators have worn civilian clothes; others have been uniformed military police. During the violent government crackdown on pro-democracy protests this fall, which claimed more than 80 lives, over 100 women report being subjected to invasive “virginity tests” by the military.

Zohney believes that the attacks are systematic and fueled by unknown organized groups–whether by the military regime or others, she isn’t certain. She sees them as an attempt to discourage protests by intimidating revolutionaries and painting them in a bad light. Many of her friends have been attacked. Yet, she says, no serious security measures have been taken to stop the assaults. As a result, many women have avoided Tahrir Square, losing the opportunity to be full participants in the political process.

On the other hand, some women have spoken out against the violence. Logan, Eltahawy and others told their stories to the media. Women regularly share their harassment stories online. But, unfortunately, as on Friday, they, too, experience backlash and harassment.

If broad attempts to curb harassment in Egypt succeed, Tahrir Square may become safer for women protesters. Rebecca Ciao, a co-founder of Egyptian safe-streets organization HarassMap, says her group plans to continue conducting community outreach, spotlighting stories of harassment and allowing people to easily report incidents on an online map. Groups such as HarassMap, ECWR and the United Nations’ Safe Cities Programme have long spearheaded anti-harassment actions such as online story sharing, community safety audits, meetings, rallies, radio ads and, last month, a human chain against street harassment.

The attacks on women are also sparking anger among regular citizens. The “woman in the blue bra” became a national martyr, drawing thousands to march in solidarity in December.

No matter how many attacks they face, these brave women and men plan to speak out. Zohney and others are planning a multipronged response to Friday’s attacks that will include a larger, more organized march, as well as online testimonials by Friday’s victims and calls for more security in Tahrir Square. Activist Leil Zahra Mortada wrote in a Facebook post accompanying a photo album from the Friday march:

No matter how deep the wounds are, no matter how many times we get attacked or will be attacked, this will not stop nor silence us. More actions are planned, more noise will be made, and more proactive steps will be taken. We will see the end of sexual harassment and assault, both state-organized and individual! We will take down patriarchy, sexism and every form of violence based on gender or sexuality!

Brava. It is clear Egypt’s revolution will be incomplete until women win the streets.


The Woman In The Red Shirt: Assaulted By 200 Men in Tahrir Square

CAIRO — Her screams were not drowned out by the clamor of the crazed mob of nearly 200 men around her. An endless number of hands reached toward the woman in the red shirt in an assault scene that lasted less than 15 minutes but felt more like an hour.

She was pushed by the sea of men for about a block into a side street from Tahrir Square. Many of the men were trying to break up the frenzy, but it was impossible to tell who was helping and who was assaulting. Pushed against the wall, the unknown woman’s head finally disappeared. Her screams grew fainter, then stopped. Her slender tall frame had clearly given way. She apparently had passed out.

The helping hands finally splashed the attackers with bottles of water to chase them away.

The assault late Tuesday was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was almost overwhelmed by the crowd herself and had to be pulled to safety by men who ferried her out of the melee in an open Jeep.

Reports of assaults on women in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year, have been on the rise with a new round of mass protests to denounce a mixed verdict against the ousted leader and his sons in a trial last week.

The late Tuesday assault was the last straw for many. Protesters and activists met Wednesday to organize a campaign to prevent sexual harassment in the square. They recognize it is part of a bigger social problem that has largely gone unpunished in Egypt. But the phenomenon is trampling on their dream of creating in Tahrir a micro-model of a state that respects civil liberties and civic responsibility, which they had hoped would emerge after Mubarak’s ouster.

„Enough is enough,“ said Abdel-Fatah Mahmoud, a 22-year-old engineering student, who met Wednesday with friends to organize patrols of the square in an effort to deter attacks against women. „It has gone overboard. No matter what is behind this, it is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be happening on our streets let alone Tahrir.“

No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area, and women rarely report such incidents. But activists and protesters have reported a number of particularly violent assaults on women in the past week. Many suspect such assaults are organized by opponents of the protests to weaken the spirit of the protesters and drive people away.

Mahmoud said two of his female friends were cornered Monday and pushed into a small passageway by a group of men in the same area where the woman in the red shirt was assaulted. One was groped while the other was seriously assaulted, Mahmoud said, refusing to divulge specifics other than to insist she wasn’t raped.

Mona Seif, a well-known activist who has been trying to promote awareness about the problem, said Wednesday she was told about three different incidents in the past five days, including two that were violent. In one incident, the attackers ripped the woman’s clothes off and trampled on her companions, she said.

Women, who participated in the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak’s Feb. 11, 2011 ouster as leading activists, protesters, medics and even fighters to ward off attacks by security agents or affiliated thugs on Tahrir, have found themselves facing the same groping and assaults that have long plagued Egypt’s streets during subsequent protests in the square.

Women also have been targeted in recent crackdowns on protesters by military and security troops, a practice commonly used by Mubarak security that grew even more aggressive in the days following his ouster. In a defining image of the post-Mubarak state violence against women, troops were captured on video stomping with their boots on the bare chest of a woman, with only her blue bra showing, as other troops pulled her by the arms across the ground.

A 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights says two-thirds of women in Egypt experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis. A string of mass assaults on women in 2006 during the Muslim feast following the holy month of Ramadan prompted police to increase the number of patrols to combat it but legislation providing punishment was never passed.

„If you know you can get away with sexual harassment and assault, then there is an overall impunity,“ Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef said.

The case is more paradoxical in Tahrir, which has come to symbolize the revolution, but has lost its original luster among Egyptians weary of more than a year of turmoil.

Women say they briefly experienced a „new Egypt,“ with strict social customs casually cast aside during the initial 18-day uprising – at least among the protesters who turned the square into a protected zone. But that image was marred when Lara Logan, a U.S. correspondent for CBS television, was sexually assaulted by a frenzied mob in Tahrir on the day Mubarak stepped down, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came to the square to celebrate.

The post-Mubarak political reality for women also has deteriorated. They have lost political ground in the 16 months since Mubarak’s ouster – even winning fewer seats in parliament in the first free and fair elections in decades. The 508-member parliament has only eight female legislators, a sharp drop from the more than 60 in the 2010 parliament thanks to a Mubarak-era quota. Women’s rights groups also fear the growing power of Islamist groups will lead to new restrictions.

Activists have no idea what finally happened to the woman in the red shirt. But they have been alarmed by the rise in violent attacks on women, which has chipped away at efforts to project the square as a utopia free of discrimination and violence.

Seif said there is a responsibility inside the square.

„I think it is getting worse because people don’t want to acknowledge it is happening or do something to reduce it,“ said Seif. „It is our job to put an end to it, at least in Tahrir.“


Egypt might lower the minimum Age of Girls for Marriage

Equality Now has just issued an Urgent alert on draft legislation in Egypt which would lower the minimum age of marriage and could be voted on at any moment.

Egypt’s People’s Assembly Council is currently discussing legislation that would reduce the minimum age of marriage for girls from 18 to possibly as low as 9 years old and could vote on the final draft bill at any moment. If adopted, girls could be married off by their families without their consent putting them at risk of physical and psychological harm, as well as cutting short other life opportunities, such as pursuing their education. Such measures make Egyptian women, including the umbrella organization Alliance for Egyptian Women, fearful that their rights are being rapidly eroded post-revolution.

Other draft legislation limiting a mother’s access to her children upon divorce and the reported denunciation in Parliament of the 2008 ban on female genital mutilation (FGM), are giving Egyptian women cause for extreme concern.

Please sign here


HarassMap.org – sexual harassment is commonplace.

Harassmap is the first platform in Egypt, which allows women to report sexual harassment. There are around 1,000 visitors a month, adding about 13 new reports per week, the numbers are rising. „Many women are ashamed to report what has happened to them,“ says Rebecca Ciao. „We hope that we can encourage more women to do so through the anonymity of the Internet.“
The posts describe obscene, disgusting and brutal assaults.
Nearly 500 of these entries can be read on Harassmap.org. The Internet portal gives women in Egypt the possibility of making sexual harassment publicized. Via SMS, Twitter, email or phone, users can describe their experiences and also specify the address where something has happened. A map shows the hot spots, the areas in which sexual harassment is very common.
Rebecca Ciao, co-founder of Harassmap visits these areas with a few volunteers ans talkes to the people about sexual harassment.
Education about sexual harassment did not exist in Egypt. The topic has been concealed and downplayed.
The reality is different. According to a study by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights in 2008, over 80 percent of Egyptian women are sexually harassed daily – from comments to physical abuse. „Sexual harassment is acceptable in Egypt“.


„Words of witness“

„Words of witness“ is a documentary, that follows Heba Afify, a young egyptian woman, during the revolution in Egypt. The film was screened for the first time yesterday at the Berlinale film festival, where you can watch it today, tomorrow and  on 17th of February. In an interview with the journal „Die Zeit“ she said, that the revolution was still far from reaching its goals. In the beginning they were  euphoric and thought: „Now we live in freedom and democracy.“ But during the last year (after the revolution) little has been done and some things had gone even worse.

The synopsis of the film

A few months before Mubarak’s resignation a young journalist named Heba Afify began working for the English-language edition of an independent Egyptian daily newspaper called Al-Masry Al-Youm. WORDS OF WITNESS follows the protests on Tahrir Square and Heba’s impassioned efforts to reflect the diversity of people’s opinions and their new-found voice. This film sweeps the viewer along with Heba’s enthusiasm and determination to find the right words with which to convey the truth. It also shows us how Heba actively participates in the protests and sometimes finds herself in potentially dangerous situations. Every day she is also obliged to do battle with her own mother who feels Heba’s behaviour is not seemly for a young woman in Egyptian society.
Multi-award-winning Egyptian-American documentary filmmaker Mai Iskander’s work provides a dense picture of the social and political upheaval in Egypt and the struggle for a new order; it also gives us a graphic description of the power of social media such as Twitter and Facebook in fuelling such protests. Or – as Heba’s mother asks at one point: “What happens when I press ‘share’?”


Words of Witness Trailer from iskander films on Vimeo.

Das Patriarchat verschwindet nicht über Nacht


Jörn Schulz berichtet in der Jungle World in „Avantgarde wider Willen“ über die Folgen jahrzehntelanger autoritärer Sozialisation und Entwicklungen, die in der arabischen Demokratiebewegung stattfinden müssen:

Dass sich nach dem 25. Januar 2011 Millionen Ägypter der kleinen Gruppe von Revolutionären anschlossen, war für diese selbst eine Überraschung. Allein hätte der harte Kern der Demokratiebewegung den Sturz Hosni Mubaraks nicht erkämpfen können.

Dass auf dem Tahrir-Platz ein von Muslimen geschützter christlicher Gottesdienst stattfand und die Geschlechtertrennung teilweise aufgehoben wurde, gehörte zu den ermutigenden Zeichen, die dazu führten, den Einfluss der Demokratiebewegung zu über- und der der Islamisten und Reaktionäre zu unterschätzen. Obwohl die Wahlen in Ägypten angesichts der fortdauernden Militärherrschaft und des Boykotts der revolutionären Bewegung nicht als repräsentativ gelten könne, ist nun klar: Mehr als 5 000 Jahre autoritärer Tradition lassen sich nicht in ein paar Wochen abschütteln.

So ist für viele Ägypter das Militär auch eine moralische Autorität. Als im Jahr 2008 das subventionierte Brot knapp wurde, sprang die Armee ein und verteilte die Erzeugnisse ihrer Bäckereien. Über die beim Militärdienst erlittenen ­Demütigungen zu sprechen, verbietet den meisten Ägyptern ihr traditionelles Männlichkeitsbild. Doch muss man davon ausgehen, dass der Kasernenhof in den Köpfen ein noch größeres Hindernis für die Demokratisierung darstellt als die Gewalt des Militärs.

Die Demokratiebewegung ist eine Avantgarde wider Willen, sie will nicht führen, sondern die Gesellschaft verändern. Eine angemessene Organisationsform hat sie noch nicht gefunden.
Auf die ersten schnellen Erfolge in Tunesien, Ägypten und Libyen folgen nun zähe gesellschaftliche Konflikte. In den meisten arabischen Staaten steht der regime change noch aus.

Nicht anders als während der Demokratisierung Europas, die zwei Jahrhunderte in Anspruch nahm, bleibt die extreme Rechte eine Bedrohung, es wird Rückschläge und wohl auch Bürgerkriege geben. Aber billiger ist der gesellschaftliche Fortschritt leider nicht zu haben.

Jörn Schulz reported in the Jungle World about the consequences of decades of authoritarian socialization and developments that have to take place in the Arab democracy movement.

After the 25th of January 2011, millions of Egyptians joined the small group of revolutionaries. That was even a surprise for themselves. The hard core of the democracy movement would not have been able to overthrow Hosni Mubarak all alone.

The fact that a protected Christian worship took place in Tahrir Square and the separation of sexes has been partially lifted, was one of the encouraging signs that led overestimate the influence of the democracy movement and underestimate that of the Islamists and reactionary.
Although the elections in Egypt took place in the face of continued military rule and the boycott of the revolutionary movement, what makes them not be considered representative, one thing is clear: more than 5000 years of authoritarian tradition can not be shaken off in a few weeks.

For many Egyptians the military seems as a moral authority. As in 2008 bread was scarce the army distributed the products of their bakeries. Talking about the humiliations suffered during military service, is for most Egyptians prohibited by their traditional image of masculinity. But it must be assumed that the military in the minds is an even greater obstacle to democratization than the violence of army.

The democracy movement is a vanguard against their will, they do not want to lead, but to change society. An appropriate form of organization has not yet been found.

On the first quick success in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya now follow tough socially conflicts. In most Arab states the regime change has yet to take place. Not unlike during the democratization of Europe, which took two centuries to complete, the extreme right remains a threat, there will be setbacks and perhaps even civil war. But social progress costs its prize.

Unfortunately, the article is only available in german language.


GAANZER calls for help:

Mad Graffiti Week: Jan 13-25 – An Appeal to Artists Everywhere

This is an appeal to help save lives. The Egyptian Military Council has unleashed a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests by the Egyptian people, calling for the resignation of the military council and a cancellation of the sham elections that they’ve been running under their supervision. Soldiers have shown us no mercy, hitting fallen women with their batons, stomping on skulls with their boots, and shooting unarmed civilians dead. I’ve seen this happen with my own eyes and was unable to stop it. It’s a soul-shattering pain like no other.

The lies being disseminated by military-controlled media are as equally painful. Nothing hurts more than such shameless injustice. I fear the military’s strategy will only lead my country to an armed civil war. In an effort to keep our struggle peaceful, I hear by call on artists everywhere to support the Egyptian revolution with their art. As the genius that is Alan Moore once said, “[a satire] destroys you in the eyes of your community, it shows you up as ridiculous, lame, pathetic, worthless, in the eyes of your community, in the eyes of your family, in the eyes of your children, in the eyes of yourself, and if it’s a particularly good bard, and he’s written a particularly good satire, then three hundred years after you’re dead, people are still gonna be laughing.“

Our only hope right now is to destroy the military council using the weapon of art. From January 13 to 25, the streets of Egypt will see an explosion of anti-military street-art. If you are a street artist elsewhere in the world, please do what you can in your city to help us. Even if you are not a street-artist. If you’re a comicbook artist, a musician, or filmmaker, whatever artistic talent you have can be of big help. If you can do something before the designated date, please do! We need all the help we can get.

Finding “inspiration” is not at all difficult. A quick visit to scaf-crimes.blogspot.com will do the trick. On behalf of Egypt’s street-art community, allow me to thank anybody in the world willing to help. Your art may very well save lives.

via just.blogsport.eu