Monday, July 1, 2013

46 and counting.... Are we still having fun?

"Every minute it takes us to get to the woman we are going from wishing we get to her before she's harassed, to wishing we could get to her before she is stripped of her clothes and raped by hundreds of hands and objects. Every second after that, the scenario gets worse, from maiming, injuring, killing...", that was one of the things told to us at my first practice session with OpAntiSh. It was one of the things that I could never forget and with every time we mobilized for an intervention yesterday I could hear it over and over again in my head. I am writing about this today because I need to share, one the one hand, I need to share as a way to process my own experience, to examine and release the feelings of terror and victimization, to explore the lessons learned, and to come out scarred inevitably, but just a little bit lighter and a little bit stronger. On the other hand, I write to engage a wider public in thinking about women in public spaces, the sanctity of the human body, mob sexual assaults and what drives them.

There has been much to say about who these people are. Are they hired? by who? The army, the brotherhood or the police? Is it organized gangs from slum areas? Is it just plain and simple mob mentality of a sexual frustrated people? Is it just chaos? Or is it just all these things compiled. I've been thinking of this for a long a time, ever since these incidents had starting emerging during the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes in November 2011. Based on what happened in 2005 outside the Journalist's Syndicate when hired NDP thugs targeted women journalists and stripped them of their clothes. Shortly following that incident there was another mob sexual assault downtown that could easily be attributed to just the plain and simple mob mentality of a sexually frustrated populace. Yet, despite this when examining these two incidents we need to think of them as something connected yet multi-layered. For any event to take place, a small space must be carved for it within our social functionings and interactions with one another. Mob sexual violence is state sponsored, yet not every incident is carried out by the state's insidious apparatuses of order and security, but it was the state that intentionally carved the social space for such incidents to occur as a clear strategy to exclude women from political and public spaces. I am not excluding the patriarchy and misogyny rampant in Egypt, or the education, legal and discursive narratives that subordinate women, these as well come into play. But specifically the mob sexual assaults against women that occur within political contexts are state sponsored strategies to immobilize politically more than half of its citizen. This does not end here, social spaces are not distinct or impermeable they are constantly seeping into one another, mixing and diffusing. These politically contextualized mob sexual assaults will not be confined to the political sphere, in the context of material and conceptual misogyny, the rate of diffusion may be a lot faster than most of us could have anticipated. These assaults must be stopped now, or very soon these will become a regular occurrence of our daily lives. I must say, in the face of such a threat to our existence as woman, we have been very lax in the our response to these situations. When the Shura Council issued its statements earlier this year indicting women for their own sexual assaults, we marched in protest, we did not even make it to the Shura Council, we chanted and we went home. Our response to the Shura Council's outright carte' blanche for the violation of our bodies and the eradication of our existence, should have been taken as a declaration of war against women and we should have responded to the Shura Council with the same, if not more level of violence. This is not and will not be a pacifist struggle, not unless you want to live confined and hiding within your homes, because the alternative is having your body and every part of it no longer become yours.

An incident was reported by the Arab League, our intervention team mobilized moving quickly within the square in single file. Trying to move discretely not to attract more people to where the mob is, but needing to move fast enough, because every minute the woman is closer to death. We moved as people cheered the army helicopters flying above, as music blared from the stages, as boys ran around blowing their horns and dancing. Every minute you could hear different bangs as an endless array of fireworks would color the sky. We got to the mob as we moved closer trying to clear a path for ourselves, hands grabbing at me trying to pull me out, telling me not to go into the mob, other hands grabbing at my ass, I waved my baton, as me and the other girl on the intervention team tried to make our way to where the woman was being attacked. We could see she was being pushed against the wall of the Arab League building. Within seconds, a couple of men had climbed the 8-10 meter fence, from one to the next they handed her over,  her body was lifeless, being tossed in the air from one hand to the next. Where they saving her or where they taking her somewhere to finish her off? I don't know the answer to this, but this is the typical extreme level of chaos and confusion within these mob assaults. The men then tossed her over the wall, I couldn't see if there was someone on the other side to catch her but I could hear myself scream as I watched her body fall to the other side of the fence. I think here is where I went wrong, I had a lapse of judgement after what I had seen happen to that woman, or maybe I had also become infected with that same mob frenzy. She was gone on the other side of the wall, there was no need for me to remain within the mob, yet I found myself pushing in rage to the point where they had picked the girl. Within split seconds we were surrounded, we had replaced that woman, hands were pulling at me from every direction, moving me, forming a cordon around us, but the grabbing wouldn't stop, I used my baton hitting this one man who on the one hand was protecting me from hundreds of dirty hands reaching to grope me, and at the same was also having an open buffet all over my body. I must have hit his testicles over three times full force with a metal baton, and this man did not react. The crowd kept closing in on us, we were being moved as if we were weightless, everyone protecting and yet everyone groping. For a moment I thought that was it and I really was filled with terror, then I saw a familiar face from the OpAntiSh team, I remember his face looking at me, terrified and helpless as the mob was moving us around off our feet, as tens of hands grabbed at my body, pulling at my arms. I watched his face change from fear, to anger and then to clarity. I could breathe finally, in the middle of hundreds of men surrounding me, I could breathe. I'm okay today, slightly bruised, but intact physically and emotionally, and my heart is truly overflowing with gratitude and not just towards him, but to every single person that was with us last night from the opantish team and our friends that dropped by with food and supplies.

I realized the more I panicked the more the mob would close onto us like a pack of abused rabid dogs, the more I was calm and asked them gently to make space, the more room we had to move. I realized that I could ignore some gropes, because if I became agitated the crowd would become more aggressive. I also saw that I couldn't ignore all the gropes, because some if not stopped, they would continue to escalate and I would find my clothes being taken off me. I saw that when I would hit their hands or bodies off me, I would need to do it discretely still, because if I raised my baton over my head to bring it down hard the mob would become extremely agitated. I can't claim to understand what mob mentality is, but after yesterday I really do think that the calmer one can remain within the mob, the easier it becomes to escape it. The absurdity of the situation reached new heights, when I could hear the army helicopter above, I started pointing and waving to it frantically, chanting "eid wa7da" "and to my surprise a large amount of the mob started pointing, cheering, chanting and clapping, amazingly we had even more room to move and managed to make our way out and back safely. Shortly after I heard that our team had managed to rescue that woman.

In the midst of the turbulent events of the last two years, we have forgotten about ourselves and our struggle. I remember the first time I was groped in the middle of the tear gas in Mohamed Mahmoud, or when my friend unconscious was carried from the field hospital by men who were supposed to transport her to an ambulance but instead started running off with her, putting their hands in her pants and grabbing at her. I remember saying to myself, I don't want to write about this, because I don't want to distract away from the real issue. At this point and so I can say I have learned a lesson, I will bring up another uncomfortable topic, so many men tried to pull me out of the mobs, ask me to go hide somewhere because I was a woman, or try and keep me safely cordoned within the women's area. As grateful as I am for this form of care and compassion, we must also call it out as being the other side of the coin of sexual assaults. This is our fight, where do we go if they won't let us fight it ourselves, what will really change if we are continually through love and through hatred confined to spaces that we do not choose to be in.


  1. Dear Daughter,
    I am very proud of you, may I share this story with my friends. That’s my girl.

  2. Chapeau! For your work in Tahrir, your courage and your writing.

  3. Sharing this post in New Zealand.

    Keep fighting for women's rights to BE and not be sexually assaulted.
    Be encouraged by the support from feminists and women around the world.