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