Friday, May 7, 2010

Shocking Violence Against Women


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.


Anonymous said...

Ugh, that is truely disgusting! I hope those women were ok :( These are the kind of people that give egyptian men a really bad name..I've met a few before and they were very nice.

Aritul said...

What the hell??????

Did you ever find out the reason why they beat her?

Frenchie said...

I really don't know what it was about. We couldn't tell through the commotion what she was being accused of, if anything, or if the mob was just enraged at the fact that she'd been fighting the younger girl. Regardless, there is no excuse for violence against women

Heidi said...

I am coming to cairo in August and have been following your is really well written and gives me a clear insight into what to expect. I have been to Egypt a couple of times but never have I experienced sexual harrassment and hopefully will not. It really angers me that such things happen and nothing is done. I was also wondering if you are doing the ALI program at AUC... you wrote that is 9-3pm is that usually your schedule everyday... how many classes are you taking?
Thanks and goodluck!

Frenchie said...

Hello Heidi, I'm glad my blog has given you some insight into what can happen in Cairo but I'd like to emphasize that you're experience in Cairo may be completely different from my own. Like I've said before you're experience in Cairo depends on where you live/where you go/your social circle,etc so I hope you choose your neighborhoods wisely. I'm trying to move out of downtown soon

Regarding, ALI. I am taking both MSA and ECA. Sun-Thursday 9:30-3ish. ALI is in the new campus and I've found that this environment isn't the best for me so I'm now looking at different programs. I'll actually write a post about Arabic programs here soon so look out for it!

Anonymous said...

I was told by an Egyptian male that the men could hit women and no one would interfere. I think it is sad.

Novinha56 said...

I was assaulted in the very same spot 10 years ago. A young man was willing to sell me some student card at each time I got out of my hotel.
One day, while I was phoning in a public phone, he came by me, I ignored him and he started to look at me with a very dark look. Then he started insulting me "fascist, racist". He was shouting more and more loudly up to the point I felt he was close to beat me and I burst into tears. Men in the cafe nearby were spotted the whole scene, and fifteen among then came by us, some took my attacker by the shoulder and started to reprimand him while others stayed with me, trying to calm me down. At last, the men with my attacker forced him to offer me apologies.
The same thing happened to me few weeks before in Paris. A guy shouted and spitted at me in one of the most crowdy places in Paris and no one came to help me.
Oddly, after the Tahrir scene, I felt more secure due to the fact that I had the feeling that even if I get assaulted by a bad guy, some others would come to my rescue.
Have the things changed so much during the last decade?
Did they rescue me because I was European?
I am profundly disgusted by what you have witnessed.
I feel the population here is able to burst into a fury more and more quickly and violently than ever before. I think this is due to their increasing frustration : rising prices, poor paid jobs, poor housing conditions, and overall, police humiliation.

Frenchie said...

Novinha, you ask a very good question. being a white, foreign does provide you with a certain level of protection that Egyptian women (and black women) may not have, I believe. when I lived downtown, I saw men physically assault Egyptian woman several times. Sometimes crowds would watch and other times they'd join in but no one really tried to help the woman. When i was attacked by a cabbie and in the instance when 2 Egyptian men tried to follow me home, the streets were filled with Egyptian onlookers that did not try to help me. On the other hand, when a white classmate of mine was almost raped in the same downtown area, many Egyptian men ran to her rescue. One could theorize for days as to the reason why things happen here as they do...

Anonymous said...

Hi Frenchie: I just found your blog today. LOL, a couple of years late. By now you know what happened to the female reporter in Egypt. I had no idea Egyptian men could be so uncontrollable and I am being nice.
Even in America we women have to be careful trying to break up a fight. Men who fight women are scared to fight a real man. Luckily, you and the other women were not harmed. And, yes a fair skin foreign woman will have more men defending her, colorist behavior? Maybe. Just be careful.

Deb- New Orleans

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