Morsi’s Regime Topples; Women Pay a Price

8341682053_a95ea385c1As of approximately 3 p.m. EST, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is no longer in office. After a week of rapidly intensifying protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Egyptian General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi announced, via televised press conference, that Morsi had been deposed and that a “government of technocrats will be appointed to run the country.” General Sisi promised to lead the country according to the demands of the people and hold presidential elections in the near future.Whatever Egypt’s future holds for women, they can’t be encouraged by their treatment during the short but explosive anti-Morsi rebellion.

Female protestors in Tahrir Square have reported 91 instances of sexual assault in the past four days. Considering the stigma of reporting sexual assault that exists around the world, the number of actual assaults is probably much higher. (You can watch some of these women share their stories here, in a video put together by Human Rights Watch). Additionally, a 22-year-old Dutch journalist was gang-raped in Tahrir Square on June 30 while covering the rebellion. She was hospitalized and underwent surgery after the attack. This comes on the heels of the gang-rape of American reporter Lara Logan two years ago in Tahrir Square while she was covering the overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak.

Hania Moheeb, one of the women who reported her assault, said, “I don’t have so much confidence in the legal system, in the judicial system in Egypt”, and expressed doubt that there will be justice for her and her fellow survivors. Sexual harassment is a daily reality for Egyptian women, reports Heba Morayef, Egypt Director of Human Rights Watch, and one that numerous regimes have continually ignored. This has helped fuel a culture of impunity for the men who propagate sexual harassment and violence.

Several organizations have sprung up in Egypt to combat sexual assault, including Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault and Nazra Feminist Studies, who together reported the sexual assault statistics from Tahrir Square. The violence that women face when protesting is just one arena where Egyptian women aren’t safe: a UN Gender Equality study in May reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual violence.

Nonetheless, women make up a significant and brave portion of the Tamarod (Rebel) Movement, and many signed the official Tamarod petition, which has over 22 million signatures. The petition accuses the Morsi government of failing to address the lack of security that has plagued the country since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Mubarak, ignoring the needs of the country’s poor and leaving “no dignity” for the Egyptian people.

The men behind the sexual assaults are largely thought to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi’s party, while other perpetrators were members of the military or police or, in some cases, the women’s fellow “revolutionaries.” CNN analyst Nina Burleigh points out that the prevalence of violence against women in Egypt has risen since the Muslim Brotherhood took power, and that it is no surprise considering that the founding ethos of the party is that women should be powerless. Sexually assaulting women who are taking back power is a clear and repulsive way to force women out of the political sphere. In February, Egyptian Salafist preacher Abu Islam, also known as Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullahm, condemned women protesting in Tahrir Square, saying they “have no shame and want to be raped.”

Whatever road Egypt’s government travels after this most recent rebellion, it must address the politicized violence against women. The 91-plus women in Tahrir Square and their counterparts throughout Egypt deserve to live without fear of sexual assault. But despite the threats, women continued to pour into Tahrir Square, many now celebrating the announcement of the Morsi’s removal with fireworks. Their celebration proves that these resilient and inspiring women will continue to demand their place in Egypt’s new government, no matter the consequences.

Photo of Tahrir Square in 2011 from Flickr user AK Rockefeller under license from Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. Lauren Jappe says:

    Hello Ms. Schetina,

    I agree very much with the premise of your argument, in that women will benefit from the removal of Muhammad Morsi. Women should absolutely be free to protest against a repressive government without fear of being assaulted and raped. I suspect that such a dangerous environment likely exists independent of Morsi’s particular cabinet.

    However, I was a bit dismayed with your lack of nuance regarding the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization with a complex history whose entire existence you have written off in one dismissive and somewhat unsupported claim. The group was founded in 1928 with an anti-colonialist, pro-religious freedom mission, beginning their work in the Egyptian countryside amongst largely disenfranchised people. Their work was based on religious and social equality, not “that women should be powerless”. Obviously, sexism is a powerful force and likely transcended the Brotherhood’s philosophy then and now. But Western journalists have too often written off the Brotherhood and other Islamist parties as a single monolithic evil. The Salafist preacher you mention–whose words should be universally condemned–is likely not affiliated with the Brotherhood, as the Egyptian Salafist movement is best represented by the An-Nour party (the runner-up in the last election in which Morsi was voted into office).

    I am in solidarity with your larger message and with the women of Egypt, many of whom likely voted for Morsi and are dismayed by his failings. However, to misinform your readers that the Brotherhood is a party whose “founding ethos is that women should be powerless” negates the ideals and experiences of many politically active Egyptian women. A closer look at the Brotherhood’s history, philosophy, and contemporary goals, as well as their treatment of women, would serve both American and Egyptian women better than a conventional Western dismissal of a poorly understood Islamist party.

    Lauren J

    • Catherine Schetina says:

      Hi Lauren! Thank you for pointing this out. I actually am familiar with the Muslim Brotherhood’s origins, and I think their ideological background has been somewhat hijacked by the more powerful patriarchal social structure that currently controls Egypt. I am sorry if I oversimplified their history in the piece; it was not meant to be a longer expose on the origins of the Muslim Brotherhood but more an exploration of the current political climate for female protestors. Thank you for your point and I encourage readers to further educate themselves on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. On the official English language website of the group they have a page addressing the role of women in the group (http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=29390) but in research I have done through Human Rights Watch Egypt it seems that the Brotherhood has not always followed through on their ideological premises regarding the status of women (http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/07/03/egypt-epidemic-sexual-violence). Thank you for commenting and reading!

  2. Dawn MxcInnes says:

    Regardless of the identity of the perpetrators of these offenses against humanity , this kind of event is being reported all to often from Islamic countries and we have had instances of abuse of rape victims in courts in this country. This is a part explanation of the anti Islamic bias that is rising in many non Islamic countries . There really does seem to be a pervading attitude that women should be kept dependent for support and even safety on males. I cannot accept that males are such hormone driven creatures that women have to cover themselves from head to toe in order to help the dears resist temptation. We have surely progressed beyond the stage of regarding women as sex objects to be grabbed and utilized if half a chance presents itself. I know many men who are happy to have their partner proudly walk side by side with them and who take pride in what she achieves in life. I find the attitude that women must be cloistered for their own good as offensive to men as it is to women.

  3. Dawn, you’re absolutely correct. The men who cannot control their urges unless women are covered from head to to are pathetic creatures who should not be wandering the streets without supervision.

  4. The Muslim Brotherhood was the first modern Islamic fundamentalist group, and they weren’t founded as a group simply fighting for religious freedom. Muslims could practice freely in the 1920s. That makes them sound so benign. Yes they were anti-imperialist, as were most other Egyptians, but their goal always was to gain political power and impose Shari’a law, which included rolling back the gains women made in Egypt starting in the 1920s. They were willing to use violence to achieve that end. Go back and read their founding documents and the writings of Sayyid Qutb. They were suppressed in Egypt, first by the monarchy and then by the Nasser regime, because of their radicalism and attempts to assassinate Nasser and others. I don’t know why anyone would get all touchy-feely about them. When they claimed prior to winning the recent Egyptian elections that they supported rights for women and religious minorities, it was clearly insincere politicking, not unlike Ayatollah Khomeini who claimed to want democracy, equality, women’s rights, and the rule of law prior to coming back to Iran in 1979, only to change his tune dramatically once he had power in his grasp. Groups like the Brotherhood only want to control people’s behavior and enforce their version of religious piety. They’re about religious imposition, not religious freedom. The Brotherhood, in fact, inspired later groups like the supporters of Khomeini in Iran, the ultra-conservatives in Saudi Arabia, and the Taliban. They’re fundamentally anti-democratic, anti-pluralism, and anti-gender equality. They have no viable economic program, and they don’t really care about the rule of law.

    I’m glad Morsi’s gone because the Brotherhood and groups like them were a step in the wrong direction. Maybe now, if the military actually gives power back to an elected government, Egypt can build a true democracy. It will take time, patience, and likely many mistakes before they can build a strong government that represents all Egyptians, but they can do it. Just look at the U.S. It took well over a decade after independence before we had the U.S. Constitution, and it took two hundred years to work out the issue of racial equality. And we’re still fighting for the equality of various groups, women included. So democracy in Egypt will be a process. Egypt’s women just need to stay on the front lines, and I say bravo to them for their bravery in the face of violence. If any women are capable of standing up for themselves, it’s the women of Egypt. The rest of us need to support them however we can, and thank you to Ms. for keeping them in the spotlight.

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