Thugs Attack Women Demonstrators in Cairo – Whodunit?

Thugs attacked women demonstrating against sexual harrasment in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday. They broke through a chain of protective men and cornered women against rails around the square, groping them. The women ran to nearby buildings.

Egypt, like many Mediterranean societies, emphasizes female chastity as a source of the honor for males in the family. Thus, most brothers are seriously shamed by a sister who sleeps around. This shame/honor dynamic underpins a nervousness about women playing a role in public, since being public rather than private, it is feared by many conservatives, increases opportunities for sexual activity. Women were about a fifth of the protesters in Tahrir Square during the 18-day revolution in 2011, but their presence was controversial. The military accused them of sleeping with boys at the square in tents, and gave them virginity tests when it arrested them. The protesters are fictive brothers and sisters united against an abusive father figure. Counter-revolutionaries use female honor as a wedge to turn brothers on sisters, in hopes of dividing and ruling.

So who attacked the women on Friday? Of course we don’t know. Some protesters suspect that elements in the military or remnants of the old regime put the thugs up to it, as a way of discouraging young people from coming to the square. On Tuesday and again on Friday, thousands had protested there against the presidential candidacy of Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, on the grounds that he is too close to the deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak. Friday could be seen as revenge for Tuesday, if the thugs were Shafiq supporters.

Pro-Shafiq ruffians have broken up news conferences and attacked a women’s conference a couple of weeks ago when I was in Cairo. That is, some activists suspect that the women were assaulted not because they are women but because they are revolutionaries continuing to threaten the prerogatives of the Mubarak elite. If women, then Coptic Christians, then other groups can be peeled off from the youth revolutionaries, they fear, the movement could be much weakened.

Posted in Egypt | 5 Responses | Print |

5 Responses

  1. Dear Professor Cole

    New York Times in an editorial points out hte danger of the second round of elections in Egypt next week becoming a train wreck.

    link to

    The article already casts doubt on the validity of the result and a low turnout will undermine the legitimacy of whoever gets elected.

    I do hope you will be in Cairo, Alex, Luxor and Upper Egypt to interpret the outcome for us. You seem to have mastered the “Absence of Body, is better than Presence of Mind” principle and know when to catch the last plane out before the shooting starts.

    An “Algerian” solution would be a disaster.

  2. We need to demand Ikhwan to take a stance on this issue one way or the other. Alhamdu li Allah, this is not a political issue. Sexual harassment is a wickedness, and impiety, and a shame.

  3. Juan, could you please allow the Egyptian women some agency? As you tell it, visibly assaulting women in the streets is a tug of war in which “brothers” fail to protect hymen from marauding “fathers.” How about “Egyptian women, insisting on the right to full participation in the civic and political life of their country, balance their emerging autonomy and their safety…”

  4. “…being public rather than private, it is feared by many conservatives…”

    Nice try, but keep in mind that in this country it is conservatives that point out the numerous failures of Islam, including oppression of women, only to be met by a deafening silence from the left, including women’s rights groups.

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