Thousands of men and no groping

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Women protesters in EgyptA striking aspect of the Egyptian revolution which led to the resignation of its president Hosni Mubarak on Friday 11 February was the participation of youth and women.

Although the cameras focused, especially in the early days, primarily on the men standing up for their rights in Tahrir Square, plenty of women also joined the crowds.

Women, young and old, were on the frontlines, organising security and braving tear gas and gunfire as they called for Mubarak's unseating. Women volunteers monitored the entrance to the Square, checking identification and searching bags to make sure no one brought in weapons. Women were in the Square when men on camels and horseback charged into the crowd beating them with whips.

Women doctors cared for the wounded and bleeding people who were taken to a makeshift hospital in a nearby mosque, after clashes broke out between pro-Mubarak and pro-democracy supporters.

And as women joined men in the square and on the streets, calling for an end to the Mubarak regime, they brought their children, including young girls. Some even camped out in the cold.

These women joined a long history of women who struggled for recognition of their human rights and for freedom in Egypt. They included women such as Malak Hifni Nassef (1886–1918), an Islamic modernist reformer, and Nabaweya Moussa (1886–1951), a pioneer of women's education in Egypt.

Then there was Hoda Sharawi (1879–1947), a writer and political activist who helped lead the first women's street demonstration during the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. She became an icon of the Egyptian women's liberation movement.

As the West continued to occupy and exploit Egypt, and an Islamist backlash occurred from the 1930s, most of the gains made by these women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were obstructed and almost vanished. 

It was fitting that Nawal el-Saadawi, Egyptian psychiatrist, activist and former director general of public health education, was there to celebrate Mubarak's departure. She spent time in prison for opposing the Anwar al-Sadat regime. In 1982 she founded the Arab Women's Solidarity Association to promote women's participation in social, economic, cultural and political life. It was later banned by Mubarak.

Ruheya, a 21-year-old university student who had travelled from the town of Sharqeya, 160 km north of Cairo said, 'There are Christian girls here, there are girls with their hair uncovered. We're all volunteers. We're all Egyptians, whether we're Christians or Muslims, whether we're religious or not, we're all good people. We're all sacrificing for our country.'

When some Christian women were asked about Western fears concerning the Muslim Brotherhood and whether a democratic Egypt might end up a more oppressive country, they countered: 'If there is a democracy, we will not allow our rights to be taken away from us. We do not worry about the Muslim Brotherhood. If they do not perform then they will not get votes the next time.'

The women say that their presence has earned them unaccustomed respect from Egyptian men. Sexual harassment has long been a major headache for women. In a 2008 study, 86 per cent of women said they had experienced harassment on Egypt's streets.

But in the square, crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, as one woman described it, 'men apologised if they so much as bumped into you'. 'Thousands of Men and No Groping!' read the heading on one website which described Egypt's protests as a safe space for women. Another woman commented, 'It's because we're all so focused on one goal, we're a family here.'

To ensure that the contribution made by women will not be overlooked, Leil-Zahra Mortada has placed a collection of photos of women in the Egypt protests on her website. She calls it a 'homage to all those women out there fighting, and whose voices and faces are hidden from the public eye!'

As the people of Egypt struggle to build a new democratic order of peace and economic wellbeing, it is essential that women do not lose the visibility and the voice which they reclaimed in the 18 days of revolution. They must be full and active participants in the reforms to come.


Patricia MadiganDominican Sister Trish Madigan lived near Tahrir Square while she was a Research Fellow at the American University of Cairo in 2006. She has recently published Women and Fundamentalism in Islam and Catholicism: Negotiating Modernity in a Globalized World (Peter Lang Publishers). 

 

Recent articles by Trish Madigan.

Best of 2011: Thousands of men and no groping

Topic tags: Egypt, Protests, women, Tahrir Square, Hosni Mubarak, Malak Hifni Nassef, Nabaweya Moussa, Hoda Sharawi


 

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Existing comments

Sounds like World Youth Day, Sydney 2008, and every other WYD - thousands of men, and no groping.
Sylvester | 16 February 2011


why cannot this be like this every day women safe as well our children and men. solidarity God bless you all
irena mangone | 16 February 2011


We also should NOT FORGET recent incidents in Egypt. I am not sure that more freedom and less security will turn intolerant mass murderers into models of tolerance?


"The 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh attacks were a series of terror attacks on July 23, 2005, perpetrated by an Islamist organization, targeting the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Eighty-eight people were killed, the majority of them Egyptians, and over 200 were wounded by the blasts, making the attack the deadliest terrorist action in the country's history."
"In the mid-morning attack, terrorists from the Islamic Group and Jihad Talaat al-Fath ("Holy War of the Vanguard of the Conquest") massacred 62 people at the attraction. The six assailants were armed with automatic firearms and knives, and disguised as members of the security forces. They descended on the Temple of Hatshepsut at around 08:45. With the tourists trapped inside the temple, the killing went on systematically for 45 minutes, during which many bodies, especially of women, were mutilated with machetes. A note praising Islam was found inside one disemboweled body.[4] The dead included a five-year-old British child and four Japanese couples on their honeymoons.[5][6]

The attackers then hijacked a bus, but ran into a checkpoint of armed Egyptian tourist police and military forces. One of the terrorists was wounded in the shootout and the rest fled into the hills where their bodies were found in a cave, apparently having committed suicide together.[7]
[edit]Casualties

Four Egyptians were killed, three of the police officers and one tour guide. A total of 58 foreign tourists were killed: 36 Swiss, ten Japanese, six Britons, four Germans, and two Colombians[4] were among the wounded."
"The Dahab bombings of 24 April 2006 were three bomb attacks on the Egyptian resort city of Dahab. The resorts are popular with Western tourists and Egyptians alike during the holiday season.
At about 19:15 local time on 24 April 2006 — a public holiday in celebration of Sham Al-Nasseim (Spring festival) — a series of bombs exploded in tourist areas of Dahab, a resort located on the Gulf of Aqaba coast of the Sinai Peninsula. One blast occurred in or near the Nelson restaurant, one near the Aladdin café (both being on both sides of the bridge), and one near the Ghazala market. At least 23 people were killed, mostly Egyptians, but including a German, Lebanese, Russian, Swiss, and a Hungarian.[1] Around 80 people were wounded, including tourists from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, South Korea, United Kingdom and the United States.[2]

The governor of South Sinai reported that the blasts might have been suicide attacks, but later Habib Adly, the interior minister of Egypt said that the devices were nail bombs set off by timers, and Egyptian TV also reported that the bombs were detonated remotely. Later investigations revealed the blasts were suicide attacks, set off by Bedouins, as in earlier attacks in the Sinai.[3]

These explosions followed other bombings elsewhere in the Sinai Peninsula in previous years: in Sharm el-Sheikh on 23 July 2005 and in Taba on 6 October 2004.
Egyptian security officials have stated that the attacks were the work of an Islamic terror organisation called Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad."

Beat Odermatt | 16 February 2011


re Beat Odermatt so!!! I admire your TOLERANCE.

Of course it is self evident to people like you that in such Islamic societies violence and intolerance are endemic. Naturally good christian people are immune. The Bosnians will attest to this..
Your mind is made up.
brian Poidevin | 16 February 2011


It is fine for Christian women to say that they will not allow their rights to be taken away from them. However, all it would take to crush this revolution, or any other, is a faction willing to use sufficient brute force. What would have become of a revolution, if the army or police had simply opened up on the crowds with machine guns? This revolution could still go anywhere.

Personally, I share some of Beat Odermatt's concerns. There are hard core murderers amongst the Egyptians. Besides this, Egypt is still a deeply conservative Muslim country. We should not expect a sudden flowering of pluralism and diversity. Minorities remain highly vulnerable. Christians of any hue did not do too well under Mubarak. Why should there lot necessarily improve now? And I do not see the rights of women being advanced, if any fundamentalist Muslim group like the Muslim Brotherhood takes control. The world must wait for some time yet to see how things play out.
Patrick James | 16 February 2011


Unfortunately it wasn't always the case for all women:

http://www.smh.com.au/world/us-reporter-lara-logan-raped-and-beaten-in-egypt-cbs-20110216-1avjj.html
Ben Davies | 16 February 2011


So, Beat, what you're saying is that the Egyptian people should continue to suffer under an oppressive regime which has tortured and killed thousands over the last 30 years simply because between five and seven years ago, there were some terrorist attacks in Egypt.

On that basis, we should declare martial law in Tasmania and absolutely definitely in the US.


Erik H | 16 February 2011


I think this is a rather rose-coloured view of the situation in Egypt, particularly in light of the recent experience of the CBS reporter brutally raped by a mob. And in regards to the Muslim Brotherhood, the gun, unfortunately, will always triumph over the ballot box for those with an iron will to ensure it does.
Steve McAlpine | 16 February 2011


Beat: Have you been watching Glenn Beck on Fox news Channel. He has been hysterically flagging a world wide anti Western domino style insurrection involving a coalition of Muslim Brotherhood, Communists and Socialists. He and rationality are such strangers that even Bill O'Reilly had to hose him down a few days ago! We need I think to keep in mind that Egypt's el-Sheebab, the youth, men and women, are very well educated, can pick dodgy, manipultive, interest groups very quickly be they be the plutocrats or the lunatic fringe of the Sharia mob. These 'young people' trust themselves to pick a phoney. So should we. Patrick James: Yes, hard core murderers among Egyptians including their Security Services which did the CIA a lot of favours during 'Extraordinary Rendition' and left behind a lot of grieving families.
David Timbs | 16 February 2011


This is an interesting and valuable contribution, thanks. What a shame you have to add the traditional politically correct slap in passing and blame the West for the Muslim resistance to educating women or giving them equal opportunity. It makes me wonder where else you have surrendered to political correctness and undermines the article.

David Black | 16 February 2011


What a strange reaction by Erik H. Bizarre and irrelevant. Surely it is not controversial to make the following points:

1. The protesters showed great courage and determination, including - even especially - women.

2. Where Egypt goes from here is far from clear.

3. Women and minorities, especially Copts, are already brutally repressed. If an Islamist government takes hold their position will become worse.

4. Islamist parties have not enjoyed strong electoral support in, say, Pakistan or Indonesia. But in Iran and Gaza, once they got in there were no more genuine elections. As there haven't been in Egypt, of course.

5. Egypt deserves all encouragement and support.

David Black | 16 February 2011


David, you missed my point.

Beat clearly implied that the atrocities from five years ago were an indication that jihadists and extremists would take Egypt over. From that, I inferred, not unresonably, that he thought the Egyptian people should have chosen to stay under Mubarak. I was challenging those two concepts. Atrocities have occurred in Australia and in the US but that is not a reason to have 30 years of martial law.

I agree with all of your 5 points. In fact, I live in Indonesia and am all to aware of the state of play here.
Erik H | 16 February 2011


Indeed a striking aspect of what feminism is about, Sister Madigan. Thank you!

Having me wonder how (when it is 35 degrees Celsius and over) our sisters who have to wear burqas fare?

Joyce | 16 February 2011


Thank you for the article. I find its content excellent. It is wonderful to acknowledge the vital role women, especially the young, educated women is playing in this new phase in Egyptian history.

Once again I express my appreciation to Sr Madigan for bringing out their contribution by the article.

At the same time, I can't help wondering why the title,"Thousands of men and no groping"...?! Is the arctile about men, or is the article about sexual abuse of women...?! I believe a title such as this simply betrays certain fixations... In my view, it is most unfortunate and only does unwarranted disservice to the good work being done.
James Uravil | 16 February 2011


Unlike you, David Timbs, I do not have much faith that the "educated" people of Egypt will eschew the lunatic fringe of Sharia. This poll was referred to by another poster on another article. The findings state the following percentages of Egyptians support the following traditional Muslim practices. 54%: Believe men and women should be segregated in the workplace 82%: Believe adulterers should be stoned 84%: Believe apostates from Islam should face the death penalty 77%: Believe thieves should be flogged or have their hands cut off Here is the URL for the article. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/crisis-in-egypt/poll-shows-egyptians-favour-democracy-and-stoning-for-adultery/article1892414/) We need to realize that whatever comes out of Egypt after Mubarak's departure, will not be anything like a secular, liberal Western democracy. Too many of the country's core values still have too much to do with the 7th century values of its founder.
patrick james | 16 February 2011


Thank you for the article. I find its content excellent. It is wonderful to acknowledge the vital role women, especially the young, educated women is playing in this new phase in Egyptian history. Once again I express my appreciation to Sr Madigan for bringing out their contribution by the article. At the same time, I can't help wondering why the title,"Thousands of men and no groping"...?! Is the arctile about men, or is the article about sexual abuse of women...?! I believe a title such as this simply betrays certain fixations... In my view, it is most unfortunate and only does unwarranted disservice to the good work being done.
James Uravil | 16 February 2011


to BRIAN POIDEVIN I suggest that people forget to wear rose coloured glasses and look behind the scene. All the jubilation and fireworks are not going to end the fact that we have murderous gangs willing to kill innocent people. I hope that the countries in the Middle East can develop into societies where all people live in safety and have a tolerant society. How in the world did you ever come to the conclusion that Bosnia is an example of an western civil society? Intolerance is not confined to the Middle East.
Beat Odermatt | 17 February 2011


to BRIAN POIDEVIN
I suggest that people forget to wear rose coloured glasses and look behind the scene. All the jubilation and fireworks are not going to end the fact that we have murderous gangs willing to kill innocent people. I hope that the countries in the Middle East can develop into societies where all people live in safety and have a tolerant society. How in the world did you ever come to the conclusion that Bosnia is an example of an western civil society? Intolerance is not confined to the Middle East.


Beat Odermatt | 17 February 2011


"Men apologised if they so much as bumped into you" quotes Sister Trish of a young woman in Tahrir Square during the demonstrations.I refer Trish to the SMH report (17th March) "Cairo sex attack leaves US reporter in hospital". Having been in Cairo in September, I must agree with Trish how wonderful it was to see so many women bravely in the front line of the revolution.

However women will continue to be suppressed in Muslim countries despite the recent demonstrations of gender equality in Cairo, of which Trish writes. Let's not get too optimistic about this situation, remembering that Egypt is thought to be one of the more enlightened societies in regard to gender equality.
Claude Rigney | 17 February 2011


Such a great country that a western female journalist can be dragged off the street, abused as a "Jew" and sexually assaulted. Obviously it is a friendly place for women.

Adrian | 17 February 2011


The following link shows the direction that this revolution may take. It is tragic but wholly predictable. It tells how Qaradawi, a Muslim Brotherhood approved hate-monger, addressed a crowd in Tahrir square.

However, Ghonim, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, who was the face of the revolution, was barred from entering into the square.

I think we can start to take off those rose-coloured glasses now. Those Christian women had better be careful too. If they want to protect their rights, they may have to be willing to pay with their lives.

http://www.jihadwatch.org/2011/02/qaradawi-addresses-huge-crowd-in-cairo-bans-leftist-uprising-leader-ghonim-from-stage.html
patrick james | 19 February 2011


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