What Happened on March 8 in Tahrir Square

Several hundred women gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square for International Women’s Day on Tuesday, demanding equal rights in a “new Egypt.” But the event–part celebration, part demonstration–soon turned violent when throngs of men arrived to harass the women. As a U.S. Fulbright fellow in Egypt, I was able to digitally record what happened (video below).

Reporting of that day has focused on the subsequent clashes between Christian and Muslim men. But what I saw first were men intent on breaking up the women’s protest. “Go home,” one sheik, hoisted on the shoulders of another man, told women. Others shouted slogans such as “Not valid!” that had been used against Mubarak in the same space just weeks earlier. One man held up a sign reading “Not now,” arguing to me that the demonstrations were “instruments of the West.”

Amira Khalil, 22, was pulled away from her group of friends at the march, verbally attacked and groped by several men. One of her male friends came to her aid, shaking with anger.

Here is footage of the scene:

Not all men were there to disrupt the march. Shereef Abbas, 32, went to show his support for women. “I’m still sad how this turned out–I haven’t absorbed it yet, this is shocking,” he said, while looking at demonstration material that had been crumbled and torn. “This will hinder the progress we’re trying to create in Egypt, a true democracy. This segment of people will be an obstacle in turning people running around.”

Although the movement that ended a dictator’s 30-year reign in just 18 breathtaking days was not driven by feminist concerns, women were a significant presence in the street protests. In the weeks following, many have said that the empowerment they felt during the demonstrations should be used to effect change for women themselves.

Dr. Iman Bibars, activist and regional director of Ashoka Arab World, told me on Tuesday,

We run the risk of being forgotten. And today showed us more than ever, we can’t fall into this trap. We need to struggle and fight.

She has lobbied for decades to have women included in important governmental committees. But as recently as last week, efforts were clearly lagging. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces appointed a committee to amend the country’s constitution, but not one woman was included.

Bibars and other activists say in the coming days they plan to reorganize and develop cohesive strategies. For instance, Nehad Abu El Komsan, chairwoman for the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, said the organization is hosting a social media seminar this weekend.

But Rana Korayem, 25, graduate student at the American University in Cairo, says organization won’t counteract all the forces that pushed them out of the square on Tuesday. “When I informed some of my friends I was going, they were like ‘Rana, why? You have all your rights,’” she said, noting that people have been leaving disparaging comments on her Facebook wall. “Many women, including many of my friends, accept their roles,” she said. “They don’t think they should be involved in society.”

Activist Hind el-Hinnawy, who became a national symbol of women’s defiance when she filed a patrimony suit against a famous Egyptian actor, was in the square with her father. “In Egypt, everything is a struggle for women,” Hinnawy’s father said. “We hope this will change, but it will take time.”

Comments

  1. Lily Stephanie Cree says:

    I fail to understand how it cannot be accepted that women are people.

  2. Let's not forget the women living in the Slums of Egypt
    The Slums Dwellers of Egypt: A Lesson of Courage
    By Magda Sharara http://www.almanacmag.com
    I needed to learn how some women, earning only pennies, were able to be the providers.

    I needed to know how women raising up to 8 children, with almost no help from their husbands or the Egyptian Government, were surviving through hardships and domestic problems. And finally, I needed to discover how some youth were able to shape their own destiny, cope with their relentless economic need, get a college education and in many cases even a University degree.

    Through dark ground floor rooms, toilets shared with other tenants, damp walls with mildew and windowless basement rooms, these families invited me to share their modest lunch consisting of beans and tomatoes, or potatoes and salad with bread. Their sincere happiness and words of gratitude for accepting their invitation and sharing their meal in their humble home, was overwhelming.

    Continue reading on: http://www.almanacmag.com/reviews-egypt/212-the-s

  3. Drives me up the wall.
    Up the fucking wall.

    Since when does anyone else have more power over someone your body?

  4. <bigot>Obviously the women out there aren't properly brought up; it's a sign of poor morals for a woman to be demonstrating for the right to flaunt herself. Those men were standing up for proper Egyptian values, and while they got a bit out of control, you can hardly blame them. </bigot>

    Or, to be more succinct:
    <gingrich> Those men, their love for their country made them do it </gingrich>

    • Daisykicker says:

      Time to wake up and smell the 21st century. Women are humans and, not only that, they are EQUAL to men and deserve EVERY right that a man has. I will pray for you blessings of insight and clarity that you might one day realize this and help stand up for what is right. Rise up my sisters, rise up!

  5. Women and men MUST raise their daughters and sons to be conscious of the rights of others and to have gender equity as part of their education. It will take more than one generation and this must be a global movement. Girls must be encouraged to develop their strength and intelligence while boys are encouraged to develop their nurturing capacities and open hearts. That is the only way to create future human beings who are whole and have concern for someone besides themselves. Education, education, education!!!

  6. Powerful video. I loved listening to everything these Egyptian women had to say. I do not understand how issues that affect half a population should be ignored. It defies logic to me. I hope they and women around the world continue to fight for their rights.

  7. Mary Farrar says:

    My grandmother was a suffragette in America. Women in America were VERY discouraged and angry at the end of the Civil War because the men who had supported the suffragettes abandoned them. It was thought that the society could not tolerate freedom for slaves AND freedom for women at the same time!!! Women had to wait another 50 or so years. Let's hope this is not the case in Egypt.

  8. Andrea Johnson says:

    It is a shame to see this reaction . What reason do these men have to not accept that women are born with inherent rights just as them. And the comment coming from the Egyptian man, “ We want human rights for woman, but not now” because it will cause a separation . (And if not now, then when will women's rights be accepted?) And there is error that he and other men are making they seem to think that by allowing women to have equal rights it will cause a separation between men and women, however, what these men are doing (by their reaction) is already causing a separation. ( Because when you neglect ones rights evidently, separation and the problem of discrimination will still persist.) We are equal and we are born to be equal. If there is one thing to say here is that by the exposure of the video it reaches an audience. And I am happy to see that these woman are standing their ground, and not getting discouraged. -Andrea Johnson

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