Women are being raped while protesting. Women are sexually harassed, groped, in the very square from which the reformers sought change. “A girl contributes 100 percent to her own raping,” says Adel Abdel Maqsoud Afifi, a police general, lawmaker, and ultraconservative Islamist, “when she puts herself in these conditions.”
What are these conditions? Is what Afifi says unique? Is it unique to Egypt? No.
The tragedy is what these conditions are. The tragedy is the relationship underlying these conditions. Rape is violence. Rape is violence against women, against girls, and against humanity. So, naturally, when women protest, they put themselves in danger of being harmed. The price women pay for fighting oppression, for trying to help other women, girls, and men who refuse to see that they are not superior, is rape.
It is wrong, however, to say this is special to Egypt. It is simply neotribalism or patriarchal rule, inclusive of Islam and Christianity and Judaism. It is inclusive of the Middle Eastand the West. No continent is free.
After all, it took until 2008 to get the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution declaring that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes.” It took until the 1970s for lawmakers to recognize that women in the United States — the victims — did not have to put their own sexual history up for examination on the stand. And still, just two weeks ago, the NYPD issued a directive to arrest victims of domestic violence if they report it and have a warrant for another, completely unrelated, crime.
When women protest patriarchy, they pay. They pay when it takes the form of sexual harassment in the workplace, where the harassment increases the minute the victim reports it and retaliation then becomes the game, so much so employers can no longer deny knowing it. And they pay when it’s in a revolution, where women are victims of shocking violence and repression, where raping whole peoples becomes a new form of genocide.
Does this stop women and girls from protesting? No. It’s a cost that women bear. The only hope of changing “these conditions” is a) not to suggest this is an East/West conflict with the West claiming cultural supremacy, and b) not to allow those denigrating the opposition to offer false allegations and false promises, pointing the finger exclusively at them for the rape and repression of women and girls.
Absolutely superb reading on this complex, multidimensional problem, I might add, is Anne Norton’s new book On the Muslim Question. Norton offers a different Public Square from the violence in Tahrir Square, yet she does not take the side of the West or the male aggressors. Norton already sees the beginnings of our new world, a world where women seeking emancipation and enlightenment can effectively combat violence. Yet this is not a world that falsely claims that Western cultural superiority or any “clash of civilizations” is leading us there.