When an image of a girl being beaten up and stripped by soldiers on a street did the rounds on the internet, it was no surprise that it went viral. Activists world over were flabbergasted at the sheer callousness of the soldiers for putting the girl through that, people were outraged at the display of flippancy in the soldiers’ treatment of the girl. The biggest display of antagonism came from thousands of women in Egypt, demanding the end of military rule in the country.
And what a movement it was!
On the evening of December 21, 2011, thousands of women walked the streets of Cairo, shouting out their anger at the flagrant disrespect of women and denouncing the brazen indecency in the soldiers’ behaviour exhibited in the beating, stripping and kicking of female demonstrators at Tahrir square. Drag me, Strip me, My Brother’s Blood will cover me, they shouted aloud. Demanding to see the top military officer in the country, Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the women shouted out, Where is the Field Marshall? The girls of Egypt are here!
Not since 1919, has Egypt witnessed such a large scale demonstration by its women. About 82 years ago, a march against British colonialism was the only other instance of a massive display of women’s activism in Egypt. The burst of outrage is particularly commendable as being a rarity in the Arab world. Egypt has been strictly rooted in patriarchy, in its culture and social setting, to the extent that several attempts through this year in the hope of bringing in women’s protest events into fruition actually fizzled out before materializing, and the only one that did, actually wound up ending in physical harassment of the women protesters by a bigger group of men.
In Egypt, women were jostled out of politics almost entirely. Even when the winds of change blew over the country, swinging it into action in overthrowing its dictator, women who were at the helm of affairs during the initial rounds of the revolt were few and far between. Revolutionary coalitions that sprang up in the aftermath of the despot’s ouster did not have room for many women in prominent roles. The demonstrations against military rule that have come up in the wake of the military authority’s obduracy in the wake of a full-blown affinity for power have happened to descend into chaos as fights erupt between the youngsters and the police, as rocks fly full arcs between both factions.
The military rule in Egypt has been the denounced by most displeased observers. Human Rights groups denounced them for their ridiculous invasive virginity tests on women who were detained after a protest in March this year. However, despite the gross violation of their rights through these disgusting measures, only few women spoke out against the humiliation. This is evidently because of the hotbed of conservatism that Egypt is.
The demonstration by the Feminine Face of Egypt isn’t just a representation in an open challenge to the militia after their hero, an anonymous female protester was stripped and beaten, and another who attempted to rescue her was brutally beaten and now remains in a coma. It is a strong message that they send to the militia, that the protesters wanted more than anything, to dent the military council’s efforts to project the protesting masses as mere hooligans and arsonists. The women demanded a place, a voice, a reserved right in politics in Egypt. This demand hits the recent election victories of the conservative Islamist factions squarely in the face. The march brought out such a massive range of women out to the streets- housewives who came out into the demonstrating arena for the first time; mothers with newly born children, young university students. Most women had the traditional Muslim headscarf in place, some had veils covering their faces entirely. The assemblage was replete with chants demanding empowerment and “gallantry” from their male counterparts.
The conflagration of outrage burst out in response to the shameless indecency on part of the soldiers in Egypt. Video after video streamed a similar scene set in different parts with different officers- demonstrating and protesting women were grabbed, beaten and stripped. The most prominent and haunting picture (and video, of course) of the entire array was the one where a woman lay supine with a pair of soldiers grabbing her arms upwards, and one of them ripping off her veil, revealing a blue bra. The video goes on to show one of the soldiers kicking the woman in her chest. The incident was explained in gory detail at a press conference, when the girl’s friend called Hassan Shahen, narrated that he had told the soldiers that he was a journalist, and she was a girl, and he would take her away from there. But the soldiers wouldn’t listen, and one of them began beating him with a baton. For her part, the poor girl has remained obscure so far as her identity is concerned, and is known only as the blue bra girl.
On the one hand, there are people like you, me and Katherine who denounce this cheap behaviour. On the other hand, there have been a bunch of ridiculously parochial thinkers who have actually questioned the girl’s presence at Tahrir, going on to suggest that she should have been kept home in the first place, and some others who had the gall to remark that she would have wanted the “exposure” because she wore “fancy lingerie”, and still others who believed that she should have worn something under her veil.
On 19th December, 2011, General Adel Emara, one of the members of the military council in rule, acknowledged the incident, but laid claim that the incident was blown out of proportion and studied without regard to broader circumstances that would explain what happened. Almost immediately, a stunning repartee stung back from a female journalist who demanded an apology, warning that a woman’s revolution wouldn’t be too far a prospect. The General brushed her remark aside like one would, a stray thread on their jacket.
This is a terribly surprising and callous mentality on part of the military council, and reflects a filthy set of double standards. When about a month ago, Aliaa Elmahdy and her friend Karim Amer posted naked pictures of themselves in an attempt to use their bodies as a sign of protest, all hell broke loose and the two girls were chastised verbally, by orthodox clerics denouncing them as violators of morality and inciters of indecency. Some wanted to punish the two girls based on their Constitution which is based on Islamic Law and Islamic Sanctions. And yet, it is the people from the very same brand of mentality that have beaten and stripped women.
In my research, I came across this website. It explained to me that the Quran says, "Women have the same rights in relation to their husbands as are expected in all decency from them, while men stand a step above them." Sura 2:228. This only specifies the degree of responsibility, not privilege, in man's role as provider, protector, maintainer, and leader of the family. Further down in the same article, the website explains, During the rein of Umar, women participated in law making. Umar made a proposal of a certain regulation concerning marriage. A woman in the mosque stood up and said, "Umar, you can't do that." Umar did not tell her, "Shut up, you are a woman, you have nothing to do with politics, etc." He asked, "Why?" She made her argument on the basis of Quran. In front of everybody, he stood up and said, "The woman is right and Umar is wrong," and he withdrew his proposal. That was the spirit in the early days of Islam. In the most authentic collection of hadith, Hadith Bukhari, a section is devoted to the participation of women, not only in public affairs, but in the battlefield, too, and not only as logistical support. Women carried arms, and when there was great danger to the Muslims, they volunteered to participate even in the battlefield.
Another website explains, According to it (The Quran), both man and woman have been created for the sake of each other. The Qur'an says: They (women) are raiment (comfort, embellishment and protection) for you, and you (men) are raiment for them. (Surah al-Baqarah: 2 : 187).
What Islamic Law allows for this? What Islamic Law says women should be disrespected? What Islamic Law allows men to shamelessly beat, strip and kick women? Why are there double standards in the understanding of “morality”? When one hand drums a beat saying that women should abide by a certain “morality”, how can the other hand drum up a different drum and say that it is okay for a soldier to strip a woman? Until this warped understanding of Islam ideology changes, it is painfully true that women will always be under the thumb of male domination.