WMC Women Under Siege Conflict Report: Egypt (2012)
The Egyptian Revolution began on January 25, 2011, with millions of Egyptians demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The revolution, while predominantly nonviolent compared to other Arab Spring protests, saw a number of violent clashes between security forces and protesters. And that violence took on a particularly dark tint as local and international journalists and protesters alike came forward to report brutal sexual attacks.
Under the Mubarak regime, women experienced severe oppression and sexual harassment, which has continued since the president’s fall on February 11. During the early months of the revolution, the military subjected female protesters to so-called “virginity tests,” acts of sexualized violence committed against women ostensibly to prove that no other forms of sexualized violence had occurred. An unnamed general eventually admitted that the military had authorized these tests: “We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," he said. "The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]."
After Mubarak resigned, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a military junta led by Mubarak's former defense minister, took over. Even as democratic elections are now taking place in stages, the SCAF is still committing sexualized violence and other human rights violations in an attempt to suppress protests. Mozn Hassan, director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a Cairo-based research organization, told CNN: “For years, Mubarak's regime was torturing women, harassing women, detaining mothers and daughters and wives of prisoners to put pressure on them. For sure it's the culture of the SCAF."
Human Rights Watch reported that several women were arrested in November and December for peacefully protesting, and were subjected to both verbal and physical assault. These protesters were threatened with rape in detention, and stripped in the street “to deter them from protesting.” Nazra for Feminist Studies has documented cases throughout the past year that have included arbitrary detention, beatings, attempted chokings, and sexual assault and harassment, including attempts to strip women, threats of rape, insults of a sexual nature, and other kinds of degrading and inhumane treatment.
Nazra has argued that the use of sexual violence against female activists cannot be seen outside the context of attempts by the military establishment to marginalize women and prevent them from defending their rights and exercising their right to actively participate in the politics of the country at this important stage in Egypt’s history.
During 2005 protests against the regime, security forces targeted female protesters and local journalists with sexualized violence. In 2011, forces appeared to target international female journalists, with many beaten, arrested, and sexually assaulted in Egypt throughout the revolution.
American journalist Lara Logan told WMC's Women Under Siege that she “nearly died” during her sexual assault and beating on February 11; security forces broke American-Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy's hand and arm and violently groped her on November 23 (see her testimony below); and French journalist Caroline Sinz was also attacked by a mob on November 23. Sinz told Agence France-Presse: “I was beaten by a group of youngsters and adults who tore my clothes [and molested me in a way that] would be considered rape… .Some people tried to help me but failed… .It lasted three-quarters of an hour before I was taken out. I thought I was going to die.”
The Women’s Media Center quoted Egyptian activist and blogger Ahmed Rady as saying that SCAF is definitively behind the violence against foreign correspondents. “But they can’t do this directly,” Rady said. “So instead, they are doing it in a kind of ‘Oops, we didn’t know!’ manner. Obviously, the simplest way to deter female journalists is psychological warfare, [which can be] sexual assault.”
(Click here to read Lara Logan's first-person account of her sexual assault in Egypt.)
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