Wednesday, October 22

Noha Roshdy

Yesterday, I read about a brave girl from upper Egypt called Bikhyta, who was attacked by a wolf and kept struggling with it for 3 hours, during which she lost 2 of her fingers.. yet in the end, Bikhyta was able to slay the wolf.. all on her own.

Today, all the Egyptian newspapers feature another female hero of a very special kind on their headlines.. She is Noha Roshdy, a young director of documentaries who had been harassed by a truck driver while walking home with her friend Hend about 6 months ago. The human-wolf stretched his arm out of the truck while slowing beside Noha and grabbed her breasts so violently that she almost fainted out of pain and fell onto the sidewalk while screaming hysterically. He then simply smiled at her and drove off!

Thanks to the traffic in Cairo, that animal couldn't go any far. And of course, he took it for granted that Noha will be lucky if she just managed to escape a nervous breakdown. He assumed that the best she could do is rise up and continue her walk home, carrying all the shame and pain, and probably going to the first pillow to weep. It never crossed his mind that Noha is not that kind of girl. To his amazement, he found Noha rising up like a tigress, chasing his truck, and jumping over the driver's cabin to force him to pull off and get out. She succeeded! And she held him by the collar determined to take him to the police station to charge him of sexually harassing her.

The reactions that Noha got were just unbelievable, and I highly recommend that this would be the subject of serious studies by Egyptian sociologists and psychiatrics.

Imagine that the harasser himself, the truck driver, thought Noha was crazy! He couldn't understand why a girl would jeopardize her life in such a way just to get hold of someone who grabbed her breasts! See? That's what we were talking about girls.. your passiveness in dealing with harassment caused you to be taken for granted in such a humiliating way! The good old wisdom of laissez-passer proved to be not good, huh. That's the way you are viewed by harassers out there.. for them, you are not the polite girl who couldn't get herself to face her attacker because she is a shy cute virgin! You are just a whore who has to shut up after being sexually assaulted. That's who you are.

Noha's shock did not stop there.. For, of course a crowd quickly gathered out of curiosity to see what all the screaming was about. Some of them had witnessed the incident from the start. Yet, Noha says: "Some of them tried helping the driver get back into his truck to flee.. Some tried calming me down by saying that they will make him apologize, and when I refused taking an apology, trying in vain to get them to see the crime he committed, they didn't understand why I was so determined to take to the police station and called me crazy. One of them even told me 'I don't understand what a girl like you is doing, standing her with men!' While others kept watching from their balconies without even caring to offer any help."

You may wonder, were there not any women on the street at the time?.. Well, according to Noha, only one woman volunteered to help her.. and her way of help was as follows: She said to Noha, "Never mind my girl, let him go, just don't humiliate yourself like that!"

What kind of society are we living in?! Are those normal people? Or were they all subjected to some kind of mysterious gas that caused them to lose their minds? Seriously, it seems that our society is suffering from mass hysteria! People are sick in a disgusting way! Have they lost any trace of common sense! Do they stand there blaming the victim for wanting to claim her rights?.. Seriously??.. Are they helping the criminal to get away with his crime??.. Seriously??.. Is that the presumably Religious, Pious, Conservative society of ours?? Damn it!

I'm sorry to shock you all, but it just keeps getting worse and worse. For those of you who love horror movies I recommend reading the full story as told by Noha in an interview with Al Youm Al Sabe3.. Unfortunately, it is not available in English.

For 2 whole hours after the assault, Noha stood there in the middle of a crowd, merely trying to convince them that this man she was holding is a criminal!! According to Noha, she was unable to find anyone in this very busy commercial road who was willing to help her, except for one young man who sympathized and bravely took all the criticism because he volunteered to help her get to the station with this harasser!

Now, we are going to see a totally different episode of how those things are handled by our heroic patriarchal security forces!

Noha's friend who was with her when she got attacked went off to the nearest community police station, which we call no2tah, to get help. But the constable there said that it was none of their business (I wonder whose business it is!) and told her to call 911! There was nothing to do other than holding this harasser all the way to this community station.

When Noha got there and told the story to the constable, he did not hide being so disinterested and warned her that she will suffer a lot if she insists on placing legal charges against the guy who harassed her! When she insisted, he called the police officer, who didn't bother to come. He then wrote down her complaint and said that they won't be able to take the suspect to the main police station!!.. and that if she wanted this complaint to take its legal course, she had to drive him by herself there!!.. Which she did.. She then had to go to the prosecutor's office on the same day, and there, according to Noha, the prosecutor was the only one who thought she did the right thing and saluted her courage. That's how the Noha's case found its way to court.. any other girl could have given up after facing all those obstacles. Does our honorable ministry of interior now understand why girls do not complain when they get harassed??? Or don't they?

Yesterday, 21 October 2008, Noha's harasser, Sherif Gabriel was sentenced to 3 years behind bars. A great victory to all the women in Egypt.. and a badge of honor to the Egyptian court. I am so happy that Noha's effort and courage in fighting for her civil rights were not wasted in vain. I am also so glad that although we still don't have a law under which harassers could be tried, Gabriel could not escape punishment. It is good to find some sanity and justice when all we could see around us is pure madness, and when violence against women has somehow become the norm.

Yes, justice was served. But not all is well that ends well. In fact, this good ending is just a beginning which opened a tiny window unto a world of evil and ethical rot. For example.. I couldn't help boiling with anger at some of the comments posted by the readers on Al Masry Al Youm this morning. Some of them still blame women for being the cause of harassment!!.. Some of them refuse to admit that Noha is a human being and a citizen that has the right in a safe street!! Some of them can't see beyond Noha's hair!! As if this is what tempted the harasser to grab her breast, and not the fact that she is a female! They haven't learned anything.. They insist on compromising their humanity and degrading themselves to the level of animals. But even animals do not do this to one another!

The image as it says that we have a serious problem in Egypt. A problem with the people, their minds, their psyche, their values, and the way they see matters. Something is very wrong with this country. We have to face it. Noha's case is only the beginning.. It gave us a peek into the darkness inside our souls as a society. Now, we have to see the disease that is eating up our moral system and causing us to fail miserably as human beings.

Monday, October 13

Harassment Season in Egypt

Well, what can I say? It seems like we still have to deal with this shit for some time to come. Again, I talk about sexual harassment.. and this time the return of a new phenomenon which takes place during Eid El-fitr.. which is a Muslim feast, following Ramadan. It seems that Egyptian sexual harassers have chosen this time of the year (what a choice!) to unleash their savageness as a group.. instead of the individual assaults they practice on daily basis!

During the Eid of 2006, incidents of mass sexual harassment took place in Down Town Cairo. This was the first time for such a thing to happen in Egypt (as far as I know). Hundreds of young men went about attacking women down the streets, grabbing them, touching them, and even tearing up their clothes! Back then, the Egyptian police refused to admit the occurrence of these incidents, even after actual footage were released over the internet and were being sent via mobile phones. Still police maintained that all this was not enough proof, and that all these were mere rumors!.. according to them, as long as there was no single complaint officially filed to certify the occurrence of such incidents, then this means that nothing has happened!

How hilarious our government becomes when it acts stupid! The problem is that, as citizens, we've seen enough to be assured that our security system is so damn knowledgeable. It can be loose at times, but it has got all the power and the tools it needs to gather information. They can not even pretend to be stupid. Anyway, what happened then reminded me of the well-known Egyptian movie "Al Noom Fi Al Assal" [Fast Asleep] (and a better translation would be "Sweet Obliviousness"), a comedy that mocks this fact about our government (that is, their habit of denying things, refusing to admit the presence of problems in order to escape responsibility of having to work on solving them). In this regard, the film was so realistic; yet in order to avoid problems with censorship (yes, we do have censorship on movies, books...etc) its makers resorted to an imaginary plot: aka, a mysterious disease is spreading rapidly throughout Egypt, causing men to lose their sexual ability. And because in a conservative society like ours such a thing is considered to be so scandalous and a horrible insult to a man's manhood, nobody dares confess being infected with the disease. The issue is discovered accidentally, when a young man commits suicide on his wedding night, a poor plumber slays his wife, and disputes between spouses reach police stations. The government discovered what was wrong, yet refrained from admitting it to the public, being sure that nobody would be brave enough to confess that they became impotent. However, the film ends on a very strong note when the police chief investigator who was on the case (played by superstar Adel Emam) loses his job because of taking those facts he found to parliament. He gathers people from all over Cairo in a huge march to the Egyptian parliament while screaming "Ahh".. a declaration of their suffering and a demand for action.

It seems that this movie predicted 10 years earlier (1996) how our government would handle the the mass sexual harassment of 2006. And it seems that Egyptian girls have learned the lesson. Here is what happened as published on Al-Arabiya Net:

The independent al-Masry al-Youm reported that 150 young men assaulted female passers-by on Gamaat al-Duwal al-Arabiya street in the upper-class neighborhood of Mohandeseen. One woman’s clothes were ripped off her body and another had her veil torn, the newspaper reported.

Police arrested 38 suspects, between 15 and 22, and questioned three of the female victims.

One of the female victims, who wore the 'niqab' (an Islamic dress covering the body from head to toe, except for the eyes), said that a number of young men assaulted her and her friends.

"They tore our clothes and snatched the 'hijab' (veil) worn by one of us," she was quoted as saying. She added that there were many other groups of young men along the street.

So, as expected and as usual this lollipop myth has proven to be useless. As I said earlier, "wrapped on unwrapped, you'll be consumed one way or another". This time harassers were actually arrested because their victims spoke up and testified. Nobody could deny it. But there remains the problem of "SO WHAT?"..

The arrests were random, some of the suspects complained. "Yes, I was there, but I did nothing. No one could prove that I touched any of these girls." On the other hand, imagine being trapped inside a circle of 150 harassers! Would you be able to recognize any faces? The trauma itself is enough to waste your chances in proving anything. The result? Yes, they were arrested.. but they were also released shortly after! It's that simple.

As previously mentioned , we are waiting for a law against sexual harassment. Now, if you are in a position like that, nothing will help you, even in the presence of such a law. But, what encouraged those guys in first place and made them unite in attacking those girls is their confidence that each of them was successful in his previous individual assaults. Therefore, the importance of this law cannot be ignored or marginalized. Still, as a woman you must be able to defend yourself. This time, I mean being able to defend yourself in case of being subjected to a physical sexual assault that may involve violence. Of course, until police regains control over the streets, DO NOT TAKE A WALK NEAR A CROWD OF YOUNG MEN, especially during feasts.

Here are some self-defense techniques that are a must-know, especially if you live in Cairo. You'd better be prepared. If nobody's willing to defend us, then we'd better be prepared. It seems that when men fail to go back to the jungle, they go ahead to establish their own.

"When I dare to be powerful - to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid" - Audre Lorde