Here’s Why Rape Culture Is a Problem in Egypt

Content warning: This post discusses violence against women, to include rape culture, sexual assault, rape, and street harassment.

Women across social media have been coming forward about their sexual assault cases and exposing their harassers, and Egyptian women decided to finally speak out as well. This year has been full of surprises and unexpected events. But one thing that never changes and is often swept under the rug is how women are treated in Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt. Sexual harassment, catcalling, and even rape are almost an everyday challenge for Egyptian women. The community always blames it on the woman, and if she decided to speak up, she is bullied and shamed until she stops calling it out, and kneels to society’s standards and beliefs.

Egyptian women have been fighting for their rights for a long time, but every time they try to enact change, society destroys everything. A recent case of a guy called Ahmed Zaki Bassam proves how abusive society is towards women who try to fight back.

A group of girls from the American University in Cairo, known as AUC for short, came forward and told their stories with Ahmed. Some of them were harassed, some were assaulted, and others were raped. The more girls spoke and the story spread, the more other girls joined in speaking out about their experiences with Ahmed. It became a movement and girls across the country started telling their stories about abuse, sexual assault, and rape they have faced and they started exposing other harassers and rapists. Many girls started taking legal actions against their harassers, but this is when we start seeing how ignorant society is.

Men across the country started defending Ahmed and other rapists saying it must have been the girls’ fault. “She must have been asking for it,” “She must have been wearing revealing clothes,” “What was she doing out that late at night?” and other disgusting excuses were made in a stunning display of rape culture. It became a fight of honor and proving the women’s innocence, rather than a fight against rapists.

A 2013 study from the United Nations showed that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have suffered some form of sexual harassment.

An example that shows how women are usually treated or considered is a song that came out in January by Tameem Youness called “Salmonella.” The song tells the story of a man who saw a woman in a cafe and decided to stalk her until he meets and asks for her phone number. The next part of the song is about him threatening her with violent punishments and wishing she gets “Salmonella,” a stomach infection, if she refused to give him her phone number.

Tameem claims he was actually trying to sarcastically deliver a message and ridicule men who get defensive once they are rejected, and that it is not against women. But unfortunately, this message wasn’t clear at all to most audiences. The song was watched over 60 million times on YouTube, and most comments seem to be jokingly siding with the man in the video. Tameem has recently deleted the song from YouTube after all the backlash many actors and public figures have been getting for either promoting sexual harassment and objectifying of women, like Tameem did, or not taking a stand against sexual harassment.

The media is also a big part of how Egyptian society is currently constructed, and how women are viewed and treated. For many years and even decades, some comedy actors only relied on sexual objectifying and making jokes about women as their style, and they were getting away with it because this is how the media always portrayed women.

A 2013 study from the United Nations showed that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have suffered some form of sexual harassment.

When some women decide to take a step further and report their harassment to the police, everyone stands in their way. People try convincing her that she will destroy the poor man’s future, “He just touched you; no big deal,” they say. Women are often discouraged from seeking help or taking legal action. Another weapon that people are now using to discourage women from speaking up or taking legal action is mental health. Many people, men and surprisingly women too, said they are worried about the mental health of those who called out and exposed men. Some even said that all women who are coming forward with their stories are liars, and will be the reason the harassers might commit suicide. Mental health is also a big issue that is long-neglected in Egyptian societies, but it seems many people now admit that mental health is real only when it comes to talking about a rapist or harasser.

Another story that shows how the law system needs reformation to actually protect women and give them their minimum rights of safety is Amira’s story. Amira is a 15-year-old girl from Cairo who stabbed a microbus driver after he was trying to rape her under the threat of a knife. She took the knife from him and stabbed him, which led her to be detained and interrogated in accusations of murder because according to the law, the rape has to occur to be considered self-defense.

In some places in Egypt, especially the countryside and upper Egypt cities, they consider a woman being sexually assaulted a shame, and that she should be locked up because she brought shame to the family. Some families decide that female genital mutilation is the best way to protect girls and their dignity. FGM is done in unhygienic places with fake doctors, and it’s a brutal and painful process that girls have to go through just because parents think they are protecting them. And it should be noted that FGM has no roots in Islam, is un-Islamic, and actually prohibited by Islam.

Women are being taught from an early age that men can do whatever they want, while girls have to lower their gaze, dress modestly, walk quickly, and not seduce men with their actions. Men are not to be blamed; it’s women who have to adjust their behavior! Religion is used in a wrong way to justify men’s behavior and put women at fault.

But to be fair, awareness is being raised every day about women’s rights, and the importance of consent. More men are taking stands against harassers and are striving to protect women from any unwanted or uncomfortable situations. The younger generations are more aware of the issue and are calling for more women’s rights and laws. Education about women’s health, privacy and legal actions they can take is happening in areas of Egypt. Activists are using social media to reach a wider audience and deliver their voice.

Many stories are now being shared by girls who were able to find support from other women and men when they were harassed in the street. More people are standing against sexual abuse, but the problem still exists. It will take time and effort to minimize the problem. Laws have to be stricter, and police need to start applying the law on abusers and harassers to start the change.

We hope that the efforts taken against harassers will be a good step into a more free, friendly, and safe environment for women everywhere in Egypt.