Friday, February 3, 2012

Shame and Anger in Cairo

by Sarah A. Topol

New York Times

February 3, 2012

On the night of Jan. 25, on the anniversary of the protest that launched Egypt’s 18-day uprising, Tahrir Square was still packed from the day’s demonstration: shrouded in an ominous haze of pollution, burning garbage, celebratory fireworks and smoke from baked sweet-potato stands.

I was navigating my way through the crush of bodies when I saw the twinkle in his eye: a kid in his late teens or early 20s with a friend headed straight for me. Suddenly, part of me knew it was coming. In retrospect, it was totally obvious.

As I passed him, I felt it: a hand on my behind, fingers clenching for a handful of flesh through jeans. It happens so often, I didn’t even turn around, didn’t yell, didn’t grab him. I just kept walking.

Sexual harassment — actually, let’s call it what it is: assault — in Egypt is not just common. It’s an epidemic. It inhabits every space in this society, from back alleys to the birthplace of the newest chapter of Egyptian history. A 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found that 98 percent of foreign female visitors and 83 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment. Sixty-two percent of men admitted to harassing women, while 53 percent blame women for “bringing it on.”

There’s a part of me that knows I was ‘‘asking for it’’ that night because I was walking alone at 9 o’clock in a dark, crowded place. Just like I ask for it in broad daylight — because I’m a breathing member of the female gender. I’m tired of it, and so are Egyptian women.