It would be nice to be able to be surprised about Egypt’s most recent attempt to redefine irony: a mob of hundreds of men attacking and subsequently sexually assaulting a group of women marching to protest the lack of women’s rights in Egypt:
From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement. The attack follows smaller scale assaults on women this week in Tahrir, the epicentre of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year.
Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before men trying to help could reach her.
Friday’s march was called to demand an end to sexual assaults.
And on a more personal note, while covering the Egyptian presidential results earlier this week, Natasha Smith, an independent journalist covering a story about women’s rights in Egypt, was horrifically assaulted in Tahrir Square:
Hundreds of men were dragging me away, kicking and screaming. I was pushed onto a small platform as the crowd surged, where I was hunched over, determined to protect my camera. But it was no use. My camera was snatched from my grasp. My rucksack was torn from my back – it was so crowded that I didn’t even feel it. The mob stumbled off the platform – I twisted my ankle.
Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.
Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.
…I looked up and saw a couple of women in burkas scattered around. They looked at me blankly, then looked away.
Given the excitement in most Western media outlets about the possibility of “democracy” coming to Egypt, you might expect that Egypt is on the verge of becoming a progressive state that embraces Liberalism, Justice, and Freedom as they’re all understood through our red-white-and-blue colored glasses. And so it would probably surprised you to learn that when Muslims in Egypt, who account for almost 95% of the population, were polled by Pew Research a month before Mubarak’s ouster:
- 82% supported stoning to death as punishment for adultery
- 77% supported hand amputation as punishment for theft
- 84% supported the death penalty for anyone who leaves Islam
Just because the people willing to talk to reporters from CNN and MSNBC seem fairly friendly and modern doesn’t mean that this self-selected group actually provides a representitive view into Egyptian popular opinion. As John Bradley explains in his bracing and honest book After the Arab Spring:
Most Westerners understand these countries through their own journalists and pro-democracy activists, who obsessively home in on an English-speaking liberal elite. There is no great conspiracy at play. It is just that most of them do not speak the local languages and, whenever possible, understandably prefer to avoid government appointed minders and translators. Even if they do know better, they have little choice but to provide the “they want to be free like us” copy their editors back home demand.
Egypt may be edging towards democracy, but democracy and embracing Western ideas about civil rights are two separate things. When stoning a woman to death for adultery is punishment sanctioned by the majority of Egyptians, it’s a tad hard to argue that Egyptians have a modern view of women’s place in society.
And just in case you’re still at all on the fence, keep in mind that even though the attack was caught on video, no effort has been made to capture nor prosecute the men who assaulted Lara Logan.