Why Lara Logan's Sexual Assault Is Demoralizing for Egyptian Women
It comes at a time when many women feel that street harassment is on the wane.
Gigi Ibrahim, a recent Egyptian-American graduate from the American University in Cairo, agrees things are changing in Egypt. Unlike Hussein and Mariam, Ibrahim was politically active before Tahrir. But being an activist at Egyptian protests over the years came with risks. Aside from the violent tactics of riot police wielding batons, there were targeted gender comments about a demonstrating woman's reputation, her family, and her propriety.
When a photograph of Ibrahim at a demonstration last year landed in a local newspaper, the Web site was flooded with comments. She remembers one of them well—it was from a police cadet. "He commented and said something to the extent of, 'look at that girl she just goes to the protests to get sexually harassed' and obviously, I was attacked based on gender and not based on why I was there. Obviously, he was an idiot," she says. Ibrahim got him blocked from the Web site, she tells me, shaking her head. But other commenters weighed in, defending her online.
Ibrahim hopes that kind of behavior will be the norm now. "Women were pivotal and had as important of a role just like the men in this whole revolution. They led chants; they told people go to that side or that side during the fighting."
Perhaps more important than if Tahrir changed men's minds on harassment, it has obviously changed women's concept of themselves. The protests empowered a generation of women who saw they could be taken seriously on a political stage that had previously been dominated by men. All of the women I speak to say they will fight harder for their political and gender rights. None of them are staying out of politics anymore.
To be sure, Logan stood out in the crowds, and foreign women experience even more advances than Egyptian women do. In the same study that I mentioned above, 98 percent of foreign women visiting Egypt reported being harassed. But it's still too early to tell whether or not the changes Egyptian women heralded in the square apply to foreigners as well.
Hussein has only been verbally harassed once since the protests, and instead of dealing with the guy by herself, she says a crowd formed in her defense, yelling insults and shaming the young man who catcalled her. She is working with her friends to start a social awareness campaign to bring the spirit and values of Tahrir to the masses that were not there. As for the continued episodes of harassment, Hussein thinks people who had not been part of the uprising are perpetuating it. Unfortunately, I tell Hussein, as I walked to meet her, I got catcalled several times. She is shocked. Although, Egyptian women hope the situation is improving, it remains to be seen if that change is universal.
Sarah A. Topol is a journalist based in Cairo. She has reported from Yemen, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, and the New Republic, among others.
Photograph of women protesting in Egypt by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images.