Egyptian women dream of a harassment free future

Egypt, be aware that every woman in the world is now watching you regarding the gross incidents of sexual harassment

Ahlya Fateh
Ahlya Fateh
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In our home, Saturday morning lie-ins are sacred. After five days slaving at the office, Mama is owed a morning of Dolce Fa Niente. However, like clockwork I am woken at some God forsaken hour by my six year old as she whispers in my ear, “Mornin’ Mama! CanIplaywithyouri-phoneplease?” My grunt is taken as assent and as she tiptoes out of our room with her treasure, I call out, “no YouTube!” After all, she is only six years old and I don’t want her seeing anything inappropriate. She assures me she is only watching Disney trailers but based on the amount of highly questionable YouTube links that I am sent daily, I feel the need to remain vigilant. However, this week I did share a YouTube video with my young daughters because I wanted to show them how privileged they are to be able to grow up and be educated as women in an environment free from harassment by the opposite sex. By now you all must realise that I am writing about the appalling video showing a female student at Cairo University being pursued in the most aggressive manner by her fellow male students, to the point that she was forced to lock herself in the university toilets until security could get the mob under control.

Much has been made of her long blonde hair and pink t-shirt and jeans as if this outfit was an invitation to such an animalistic reaction from the male students on campus. Indeed, the dean of the university, Gaber Nasser, faced backlash when he implied this and had to swiftly backtrack as anti-harassment groups called for his dismissal. I watched the video and I can tell you that the outfit she was wearing was pretty tame – in fact I own a similar version and while I don’t possess a waterfall of platinum blonde hair, I have to this day never experienced what I saw on screen, thank God! While I was watching, so many thoughts were going through my head; revulsion and anger probably took joint first place and a close second was incredulity, WHY? Is this some malfunction in the Middle Eastern psyche that renders educated men incapable of reason or restraint? Or is it a parody on the punch line of an old joke which I can’t repeat here, “Because they know they can and get away with it too.”

In 2012, the BBC ran a story on the “epidemic” of women’s sexual harassment, citing the assault of a woman in Alexandria, who was literally dragged across the ground by a mob of men as her clothes were ripped off her. Dina Farid of campaign group “Egypt’s Girls are a Red Line” has previously challenged the theory that dressing conservatively is a deterrent. “It does not make a difference at all...Statistics say that most of the women or girls who have been sexually harassed have been veiled or completely covered with the niqab.” In 2008, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (an organisation that must have their work cut out for them) found that more than 80 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment and the majority were veiled. So what is this cultural defect that turns these men into monsters? Said Sadek, a sociologist from the American University in Cairo maintains that this behaviour is deeply rooted in the Egyptian psyche and stems from the 1960’s as women became more educated at the same time as religious conservatism was taking hold; “...Male patriarchal culture does not accept that women are higher than one way to equalise status is to shock women and force a sexual situation on them anywhere.”

Egypt, be aware that every woman in the world is now watching you and we will show our displeasure with your conduct

Ahlya Fateh

While I do accept this in part, it still smacks of the male justification for any form of aggressive sexual behaviour, which usually boils down to the fact that it is always the fault of the woman. We women, just by our very existence, whether we are veiled in a mosque or parading half naked on a beach, are a sexual enticement to men, who are not at fault if they choose to act on this enticement because as we all know they have no self-control. Therefore it is always the responsibility of the woman to behave in such a way so as not to wake this beast that lurks within. This is one part insanity and two parts what my gardener spreads on my flowerbeds every spring and I for one refuse to buy into this premise any longer. It is an insult to the millions of men who find the strength to function amongst women on a daily basis without jumping on them constantly; not to mention a gross disservice to the millions of victims of this type of harassment. Something has to change and this hatred, and make no mistake; it is hatred of women, has to stop. Full stop.

Egypt, be aware that every woman in the world is now watching you and we will show our displeasure with your conduct over these issues with our voices, our actions and our wallets.


Ahlya Fateh knows all about fashion and publishing. As the former managing editor of Tatler magazine and the managing director of fashion brand, Tata Naka, she has combined a strong creative vision with an understanding of strategy and management. Ahlya lives in London and is a mother of two.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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