Trigger warning: images of violence aimed at women.
Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonours the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people ““ Hillary Clinton
Earlier this week, thousands of Egyptian women took to Cairo’s streets in the largest women’s protests in Egyptian history, surpassing Huda Shaarawi’s demonstration in 1919. The anger in the air was palatable, with chants reported by the New York Times like, “Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me,” “The daughters of Egypt are a red line,” and “The girls of Egypt are here.” It was estimated that 10,000 women marched from Tahir Square, demanding the current ruling Egyptian military to step down after evidence of abuses specifically aimed at Egyptian women. This tipping point came early last week when this photo, which is now being regarded as the final straw, became widely circulated:
The woman, who has declined to be identified out of shame, has now become the poster image for the abuses being done to Egyptian women. She was struck with metal batons, multiple times, before falling onto the ground, where she still was beaten. Army police stripped her of her abaya and clothing, and continued to kick her until she lost consciousness. As one can see from the man on the left pulling up her clothing, you might begin to suspect they were enjoying it.
While severe violence towards demonstrators is nothing new, the violence aimed towards women has been mounting in what Hillary Clinton is calling the “systematic degradation of Egyptian women.” Back in November, journalist Mona Eltahawy was sexually and physically assaulted by Egyptian police, an account which she described as: “”Five or six surrounded me, groped and prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area and I lost count of how many hands tried to get into my trousers. Yes, sexual assault. I’m so used to saying harassment but [they] assaulted me.” This also came on the back of reported numerous rapes, subjecting female protestors to virginity tests, and police tactics of targeting women in the very beginnings of the revolution as a means to scare them off. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the ruling head of the military council who has been deemed responsible for the continuing violence, had troops back down from those demonstrating, as well as release a tepid apology on their behalf, as well as claiming that what happened to the woman in the photograph was “taken out of context.”
I suppose that’s one way to put it. But enough is enough, and Egyptian women had, by then, had enough. As women, mothers, daughters and children filled the streets, male protestors formed a protective barrier around them, ensuring that they would be able to march peacefully, without fear of an attack. There were posters of women who had also been assaulted by military police, as well as the photo of the woman, whose blue bra has now become a symbol for the struggle that Egyptian women face.
Another protest to condemn the ongoing violence is planned for this Friday. Demonstrators are calling on Tantawi to hand over military power to a civilian administration by early February, a month that marks the original ousting of Mubarak. While there is no knowing what could possibly happen in the next few months, one can assume that the violence will get worse, with women finding themselves as a target in between the revolution that often marginalizes them and the regime that brutalizes them. But one thing is for certain: they aren’t going down without a fight.