Egyptian Women March on Front Lines of Country's Revolution
By Ayman Mohyeldin , NBC News correspondent
December 20, 2011
The plight of women in Egyptian society has been well
documented over the years. From enduring daily sexual
harassment to being marginalized from politics - being a
woman in Egypt has been and is tough.
But there was something about the video of soldiers stripping
and dragging women in the street and ferociously attacking
them that has triggered public outrage here. Even as their
bodies lay motionless on the concrete, the soldiers
repeatedly beat them over and over.
On Tuesday, Egyptian women fought back and by doing so, pro-
democracy activists say, they lifted the spirit of their
cause and their country.
Thousands of women took to the streets of downtown Cairo,
walking on the same Tahrir streets where days earlier they
had been beaten, arrested and dragged.
They wore black and held signs that read "mourning." They
were protesting abuse by soldiers, not just over the past few
days but over the past several months, which included alleged
"virginity tests" against female detainees, sexual
intimidation and harassment.
The women were from all walks of life. Young and old, Muslim
and Christian, rich and poor walked shoulder to shoulder.
Niveen Redha, an Egyptian woman living in Canada and visiting
Egypt, joined the march to denounce the military crackdown on
protesters and women over the past few weeks.
Others called on people watching the march wind through the
streets to join them, shouting, "It could be your sisters and
mothers that will be attacked next."
'True protectors' As the women marched around central Cairo,
men formed a human chain around them, making sure no one
could disrupt their march.
On more than one occasion men came up to me and said of the
obviously peaceful protesters, "look at these thugs" -- a
sarcastic rebuke to the ruling military council, which has
tried to paint the pro-democracy protesters as lawless thugs.
One man said the "noble women of Egypt are the true
protectors of the revolution" and called on the men of Egypt
to "shave their mustaches" - telling someone to shave his
mustache is often considered an insult in this patriarchal
Images of a veiled woman being beaten and stripped on the
street, exposing her upper body down to her bra, have fueled
the determination of pro-democracy activists calling on the
military council to hand power immediately to a civilian
government. The video and the images from Saturday’s
crackdown have drawn strong condemnation from the UN and US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the
revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not
worthy of a great people," she said Monday.
Sexual threats Ghada Kamal was one of the women assaulted on
Friday. For three weeks she was part of an "Occupy Cabinet"
protest outside the prime minister’s office. The protesters
there wanted to prevent the military-appointed prime minister
from entering his office. On Friday, the military entered the
encampment and attempted to break up the protest.
The 28-year-old pharmacist was dragged away by soldiers who
kicked her in the face, groped her and clubbed her head with
a baton. While she was in military custody, she said, a
soldier taunted her by saying, "We will have a party with you
today and show you how much of a man I am."
Such accounts are common among women who are detained by the
military. Human rights organizations also have documented
cases of women being given forced virginity tests.
In the face of mounting domestic and international criticism,
the military said in a statement Tuesday on the Supreme
Council of Armed Forces Facebook page that it apologizes to
the women of Egypt and said it had the deepest respect for
them and their right to protest and to participate in
political life during Egypt's transition to democracy. It
added that the military would investigate and hold to account
all of those responsible for these violations.
The recent military crackdown has united Egypt’s political
forces in demanding a quick transfer of power to a civilian
government. The closest thing to a civilian government taking
shape in Egypt is the lower house of parliament. Two-thirds
of that body has been elected, and the final round of
elections is expected in early 2012.
But the military says that until then, it has no plans to
When Egypt's uprising began 10 months, pro-democracy
activists trusted the military would protect the revolution.
Now that trust is all but gone.
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