Mona el Tahawy doesn’t really need an introduction. If you follow her twitter account, you would know that she rarely stays put but is usually on a plane between countries, voicing her adamant views. Still, if you don’t know her, Mona Eltahawy is a born Egyptian, from Port Said, an award-winning columnist and an international public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues. She also talks about the rights of women and other marginalized groups. She is based in New York.
Mona El Tahawi was captured during the events in Tahrir and its proximities on November 23. Beaten and sexually harassed, she was detained for 12 hours by the Egyptian police. The American-Egyptian said: “I am speaking out to shame them for what they did. As I was being assaulted, it was as if I was set on by a bunch of beasts. (Daily Mail Reporter, November 25)
Mona had both her arms broken, and she tweeted a photo of her casts. "The past 12 hrs were painful and surreal, but I know I got off much much easier than so many other Egyptians," she wrote, a notion that many Egyptians and I share with her.
I find Mona’s sexual encounter with the police force atrocious. No woman, or man for that matter, should endure such brutality or humiliation. However, I don’t think that the police force is the only group that considers women a free-for-all commodity if one falls in their grip. Mona was a victim similar to many. Amidst chaos and destruction, when a person is isolated from his norm, if he is egged on by comrades, or while off the beaten path (as in the Abu Gharib detention camps, for instance) people change into animals. Don’t get me wrong; this is not an aberration on the part of the force, it is a common act in the Egyptian police force, but it occurs elsewhere too, even in the best of places—the Tahrir Square.
Have abusive incidents escalated lately or has this always been the case? Has it got anything to do with the current situation in Egypt? Is documented exposure to such events becoming more commonly available? Has social media anything to do with all this? My response to all the above questions is affirmative. In any case, as with all vices, instability and insecurity propagate atrocities and escalate them.
Mona is not the only one to have been sexually assaulted; France 3 TV reporter Caroline Sinz too was abused while covering events in Tahir Square. “I was beaten by a group of youngsters and adults who tore my clothes.” Then they molested her in a way that “would be considered rape,” she said. “Some people tried to help me but failed. I was lynched. It lasted three quarters of an hour before I was taken out. I thought I was going to die.” (Chew, Kristina. Care2. November 25, 2011)
Then we have the case of Lara Logan, of the CNN from a while back. In Tahrir amidst the frenzy that broke after Mubarak’s stepping down, a group of at least 200 men beat her, pinched her and tore at her clothes in a 40-minute attack that only ended when a group of women came to her aid. (Daily Mail Reporter, April 29, 2011)
On a more positive note, women have definitely put their foot down and said enough is enough. On Twitter, many women, including Mona Eltahawy herself, have been voicing their disgust at “some” men in the Square, not because it is the Tahrir per se, because Tahrir is mainly very safe, but because it is a spot where an extensive group of men and women congregate.
It seems that many men had thought that women in Tahrir are up for grabs, no pun intended. And the Tahrir women reacted. First, they came up with a twitter account called harassmap “Catch an abuser.” Through that site, they map out where the harassers are and guide one another on how to avoid them.
But it is still happening, “Sexual harassment was over the top yesterday. Our beloved youth has 2 do smth in-order to protect women and girls” (SarahKadry). Another one said, “An organized harassing gang focuses on one woman, walks behind her, and prods her as though by mistake for a 100 metres or so, passes her by, and then another one takes over”(harassmap).
الميدان فيه عصابات تحرش منظمة" بينشنوا على واحدة وواحد يمشي وراها وكإنه بيخبط فيها بالغلط مسافة ١٠٠-٢٠٠ متر ويختفي ويستلم منه واحد أو أك
The funniest but feistiest tweet said, “Today’s harassment should not stop you from showing up in Tahrir tomorrow. Bring your nail file, have your pins ready in your purse, and the moment the harasser comes close to you, stop him from being fertile anymore.“ I truly hope it is a joke.
بالنسبة للبنات والتحرشات اللى حصلتلهم النهاردة.. متخليش ده سبب يمنعك تنزلي. مبرد ضوافرك فى ايدك دبابيسك في شنطتك. اللى يهوبلك اقطعيله الخلف اما
What happened to Mona Eltahawy is a disgrace indeed since the force that was supposed to protect her was the one that harmed her—حاميها حراميها. However, Mona suffered as many other women in Tahrir do under the hands of regular folks, too. It is a human phenomenon not a police vendetta. It is also a mob-like mentality. And I don’t agree that the leaders of the police force would have sanctioned their men to do so.
However, with the outspoken nature of the young women in Tahrir, their will to voice their indignation, and with voices such as Mona Eltahawy to back them up, I’m sure that this trend will be overcome—I’ve seen Mona on four programs so far including CNN, Egyptian TV channels, and http://www.democracynow.org/2011/11/28/as_egypt_holds_vote_journalist_mona.
Yes, this too shall pass.