Sexual Harassment in Egypt

Some consider it a daily ordeal, while others dismiss it. Ah, this is a real polemic in Egypt. From catcalling to indecent exposure, the streets are aflame with a plague that has broadened it reach in the last decade: sexual harassment. Statistics show that 98% of foreign women and 83% of native women have experienced some form of harassment, according to a survey conducted by the U.N. in 2008. These numbers are most certainly not exaggerated, as any female walking in the streets of Egypt could confirm. So why has harassment reached such an extent?

During Nasser's regime, there was a liberation of morals, but religion has since made a strong comeback. Now everybody is quickly donning the veil in order to adapt to the new conservative très chic. After all, respecting this trend is required to appear more socially acceptable. This strong rise of religious conservatism has undoubtedly brought patriarchy, one of the main components of traditionalism, back into fashion as well. Apparently the recent revolution has served to overthrow the government, but not the time-defying mentalities. The latter seem to have frozen a few centuries ago.

Perhaps sexual harassment is now a way to impose male supremacy and to implicitly yet vulgarly give women the message: "Get back to the kitchen." Yes, sexual harassment is a weapon to maintain religious traditionalism in the 21st century. If you're constantly called disgustingly affectionate names while walking around or while taking public transportation, or given lustful glances by every male who crosses your path, well perhaps you're going to think twice before stepping outside next time.

Other factors can be blamed along with this chilling conservatism. For instance, the weak economic situation apparently makes the population of young men feel desperation about getting a well-remunerated job or a wife. Therefore, they vent their sexual frustration by harassing random women. There's also the excuse that deeply conservative Egypt was westernized too fast, which refers to going from gender segregation to a myriad of images on the media reflecting western "debauchery." You could just blame the victim's inappropriate clothing like Islamism does. However, conducted research has also previously demonstrated that even veiled women know sexual harassment. So apparently it doesn't have much to do with appropriate, modest, loose clothing. Females merely resemble pieces of meat to be pounced upon by hungry predators.

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Well, whatever the harassers' motivations are, religious conservatism is certainly not helping to fight against this epidemic. From such a conservative Muslim point of view, a woman's actions strongly reflect on her family. She could easily tarnish her honor and by extension, her family's. She must act as a way to keep the bloodline going, without letting her desires or individuality spoil her life purpose. Therefore, women are often too ashamed to report this kind of abuse lest they be blamed. For instance, Noha Roshdy, a woman who won a court case against her harasser, appeared in a talk show where she received phone calls from viewers. She was criticized for taunting the harasser, and later received several threats because she brought such shame upon herself for walking down the street, getting groped and wounded by a truck driver, then daring to complain about it.

There is a law which prohibits sexual harassment, but the judiciary system doesn't dictate social norms. No, religious conservatism does. Well if harassment is merely hushed down, what good does it do? Denying a problem isn't a long-term solution. Traditionalism incessantly spreads this type of oppression and in parallel acts as a barrier to its denunciation. Quite a vicious circle, isn't it? However, there are two radically opposed ways to get out of this vicious cycle : either raise awareness against blatant religious conservatism and make people comprehend that—oh gasp—women are human beings too. Or you could just do it Islamic-style and claim that women should simply stay at home to avoid all this ruckus. If a female goes grocery shopping, she has committed a terrible crime and purposefully set off innocent men's insatiable lust.

So to conclude, this is a case of religious conservatism serving to control and oppress while being presented as the politically correct solution.

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