Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Egyptian women march on frontlines of country's revolution

Thousands of Egyptian women marched across Tahrir Square Tuesday, calling
on their countrymen to join them and demand an end to the abuse of women

Dec. 20, 2011 By Ayman Mohyeldin , NBC News

The plight of women in Egyptian society has been well documented over the
years. From enduring daily sexual harassment to being marginalized from
politics … being a woman in Egypt has been and is tough.

But there was something about the video of soldiers stripping and dragging
women in the street and ferociously attacking them that has triggered
public outrage here. Even as their bodies lay motionless on the concrete,
the soldiers repeatedly beat them over and over …

On Tuesday, Egyptian women fought back and by doing so, pro-democracy
activists say, they lifted the spirit of their cause and their country.

Thousands of women took to the streets of downtown Cairo, walking on the
same Tahrir streets where days earlier they had been beaten, arrested and

PhotoBlog: Egyptians rally to protest treatment of women

They wore black and held signs that read “mourning.” They were protesting
abuse by soldiers, not just over the past few days but over the past
several months, which included alleged “virginity tests” against female
detainees, sexual intimidation and harassment.

The women were from all walks of life. Young and old, Muslim and
Christian, rich and poor walked shoulder to shoulder.

Niveen Redha, an Egyptian woman living in Canada and visiting Egypt,
joined the march to denounce the military crackdown on protesters and
women over the past few weeks.

Others called on people watching the march wind through the streets to
join them, shouting, “It could be your sisters and mothers that will be
attacked next.”

'True protectors'
As the women marched around central Cairo, men formed a human chain around
them, making sure no one could disrupt their march.

On more than one occasion men came up to me and said of the obviously
peaceful protesters, “look at these thugs” -- a sarcastic rebuke to the
ruling military council, which has tried to paint the pro-democracy
protesters as lawless thugs.

One man said the “noble women of Egypt are the true protectors of the
revolution” and called on the men of Egypt to “shave their mustaches” –
telling someone to shave his mustache is often considered an insult in
this patriarchal society.

Images of a veiled woman being beaten and stripped on the street, exposing
her upper body down to her bra, have fueled the determination of
pro-democracy activists calling on the military council to hand power
immediately to a civilian government. The video and the images from
Saturday’s crackdown have drawn strong condemnation from the UN and US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution,
disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people,"
she said Monday.

Sexual threats
Ghada Kamal was one of the women assaulted on Friday. For three weeks she
was part of an “Occupy Cabinet” protest outside the prime minister’s
office. The protesters there wanted to prevent the military-appointed
prime minister from entering his office. On Friday, the military entered
the encampment and attempted to break up the protest.

The 28-year-old pharmacist was dragged away by soldiers who kicked her in
the face, groped her and clubbed her head with a baton. While she was in
military custody, she said, a soldier taunted her by saying, “We will have
a party with you today and show you how much of a man I am.”

Such accounts are common among women who are detained by the military.
Human rights organizations also have documented cases of women being given
forced virginity tests.

In the face of mounting domestic and international criticism, the military
said in a statement Tuesday on the Supreme Council of Armed Forces
Facebook page that it apologizes to the women of Egypt and said it had the
deepest respect for them and their right to protest and to participate in
political life during Egypt's transition to democracy. It added that the
military would investigate and hold to account all of those responsible
for these violations.

The recent military crackdown has united Egypt’s political forces in
demanding a quick transfer of power to a civilian government. The closest
thing to a civilian government taking shape in Egypt is the lower house of
parliament. Two-thirds of that body has been elected, and the final round
of elections is expected in early 2012.

But the military says that until then, it has no plans to concede power.

When Egypt's uprising began 10 months, pro-democracy activists trusted the
military would protect the revolution. Now that trust is all but gone.

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