My roommate, her fellow American co-workers, and I stood outside McDonald's in Tahrir Square chatting with a friend we'd randomly ran into on our way to a birthday party. Suddenly, I heard a woman screaming in the alley behind McD's. I could only make out the sight of hair being pulled and a crowd of men gathering around. Knowing how common and unprovoked violence against women is in Cairo, the ladies and I cautiously walked over to investigate while the Afghan man with us followed behind reluctantly. When we walked over, we found two women being physically separated, one young women still screaming madly and an older women barefoot, hair flaying wildly. The young girl was being restrained and prevented form running after the older woman as she tried to walk off. As we tried to make sense of the scene, for some unknown reason, the crowd of men began following the older woman as she turned the corner into another alley. Within seconds, the sounds of her screams and the shouting crowd filled the alley. Fearing the worst, we quickly followed the crowd and found 2 men beating her! One large man restrained her against a car as he repeatedly hit her with a shoe while another beat her with a belt! As a victim of domestic violence in a past relationship, I could not leave her. I felt a surge of anger and helplessness as I stood there. At this point, the Afghan man with us began anxiously trying to get us to leave but myself and the other American women with me all had the same thought: We couldn't stop the mob but our mere presence as foreigners would attract the police and possibly save her life.
The mob of men swelled with excitement as a few men tried to help the women and push the large men off of her and others cheered them on and tried to help restrain her. She fought and slipped from their grasp and, without much thought for our own safety, we tried unsuccessfully to pull her to safety but the crowd swallowed her up again. A thought crossed my mind to snap a few quick photos in hopes the flash would scare some guys away. A few did break away but most barely noticed our presence. Finally, the 2 men beating the woman grew tired and marched off in self-righteous indignation. The crowd disbursed jovially as a few women ran over to help the victim. Within the 10-15 minute span of the fight, one of the ladies with me had run off to get a cop. Unable to ignore a determined white woman with an American accent. The cop finally agreed to follow her over to the scene. He disbanded the few onlookers still lurking around the victim and had a man take the victim away. As the cop walked over to us with a sense of accomplishment, one of the young men who'd been cheering the brutes on smiled as he passed us, "This is funny, no," he said. I glared at him in utter disgust.
We watched for a few moments as the man practically dragged the victim away and wondered aloud what her fate would be. Nothing left for us to do, we began walking to our original destination, the birthday party. Having been in Egypt for years now, the other women had seen similar scenes before and immediately turned on there coping mechanisms: sordid jokes, misplaces anger, exchanging stories, and expressing their sense of helplessness. I, on the other hand, was still unable to move beyond my feelings of anger and helplessness. At last, we quieted down, each reflecting on the nights events. Someone voiced my thought on whether or not we'd done enough t hel that woman but we all knew that we were lucky to have made it out without a being harmed. We'd acted stupidly to save another woman from something no one should ever experience.The fact that a group of men can beat a woman in public and the police won't do anything to help her is still troubling me. Under no circumstances and in no society should this level of moral decay be perpetuated as acceptable behavior.