Fighting Sexual Terrorism in Egypt

I always admire writers who can talk about sexism in the Middle East without resorting to lazy Islamophobic tropes, so my hat is off to Roger Friedland and Janet Afary, who wrote an article about the practice of sexually assaulting women in crowds in Egypt.

The article notes that in the Arab Spring and the days immediately following it, women felt relatively safe in the crowds. But things started to turn after that: the public sexual assault of women in crowds became commonplace. As feminists have been saying about sexual assault for a while: it’s about power, not about sex. It’s about keeping women out of the public sphere.  It is, as many have said, sexual terrorism. Some even claim that agents of the Mubarak regime has intentionally instigated public gang rapes as a way of keeping women out of the streets. Regardless of the veracity of this, it is definitely the case that police rarely intervene in such cases.

The article cites some stunning figures. 67% of women in Egypt say that they have been molested in a public place, and 78% of men say that they have done so. And there is no statistically significant difference between Islamist and non-Islamist men as perpetrators, nor between hijab-wearing and non-hijab-wearning women as victims.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that the Muslim Brotherhood historically gained a lot of its support by defending the “honor” of women. But now that they are in power, they’ve shown that they’re not really interested in anything besides maintaining order.

It’s at least encouraging to see how aggressively women and their allies are fighting back.  One group, called Operation anti-Sexual Harassment, goes through mobs with batons and blow torches trying to stop assaults in progress. The group recently tweeted, “Our fight against mob sexual assaults is at the heart of the revolution, against a regime and mentality that are killing us. We won’t stop!”


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