Egypt’s sexual harassment scandal and a TV act

It’s not easy to confrontsexual harassment when there are lapses like those the Egyptian anchorwoman and the actress made

Diana Moukalled
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Yes, the administrative measures taken against Maha Bahnassy, the television host who during the live coverage of the inauguration ceremony of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi laughed and commented on news of sexual harassment in Cairo’s Tahrir Square by saying: “Well, the [people] are happy,” were necessary. What Bahnassy said upset and angered many, and her justification that she was unaware of the incident’s details and that she didn’t mean what she said did not reduce this anger. Bahnassy said what she thought was fine to say in the moment but she later regretted it once she thought it through and felt its repercussions.

See also: Egyptian presenter recklessly reacts to sexual harassment scandal in Tahrir

Bahnassy’s first reaction was thus not thought through. It’s important to stop at her laugh and statement of “well, they are happy” in order to understand what pushes a well-known anchorwoman to say what she said - we are not pondering it to exaggerate an individual mistake. Yes, her reaction was “spontaneous,” not on the level of its innocence or properness. No, not all. It’s spontaneous on the level of reflecting collective chronic damage which we, men and women, suffer from when dealing with sensitive and thorny issues like those of sexual harassment and attacks against women.


The anchorwoman’s and actress’ comments weren’t the only slips or the only irresponsible expressions made when dealing with the mob sexual attacks against Egyptian women

Diana Moukalled

What also falls in the same category is the comment which another well-known actress made when she learnt of Sisi’s visit to a victim of sexual assault. To express her “joy” about the visit, actress Ghada Abdul Razek said: “ how lucky she is, can’t anyone harass us?” Her comment conveyed further lack of empathy towards the victim.

Not the only slip-ups

The anchorwoman’s and actress’ comments weren’t the only slips or the only irresponsible expressions made when dealing with the mob sexual attacks against Egyptian women last week. In addition to the physical and psychological harm the victims suffered from, several media outlets also further harmed the victims. Some well-known media outlets and websites published the video of a sexual mob attack against women and clearly revealed the identity of some of the assaulted women. Attaching the statement of “we apologize for the video’s content” does not change the fact that this is an unacceptable act. Such an apology actually admits that what’s published shouldn’t be published. The first natural and self-evident right we owe the victims of such attacks is to protect their privacy and respect it. We should not circulate the violation and immortalize it by publishing it on YouTube. Such acts immortalize the pain and worsen it making it more difficult for the victim to overcome it.

Yes, there have been condemnations and attempts to confront the expanding problem of sexual harassment and attacks in Egypt, but the rhetoric and culture surrounding such phenomena does not help contain them and besiege them especially when the young generations are taught that women are the ones to bear the brunt of being subjected to harassment. What the anchorwoman and the actress said and what many others previously and later said have led to a mentality that does not respect women and that summarizes women as a candy which is if uncovered will attract flies - as an ad that’s supposed to encourage girls to be decent said.

Researchers and those following up on this dangerous phenomenon in Egypt agree that one of the major reasons behind such attacks is the social acceptance of the idea that violating a woman’s body is a matter of no value.

It’s not easy to confront such an awareness when there are lapses like those the anchorwoman and the actress made.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 17, 2014.


Diana Moukalled is the Web Editor at the Lebanon-based Future Television and was the Production & Programming Manager with at the channel. Previously, she worked there as Editor in Chief, Producer and Presenter of “Bilayan al Mujaradah,” a documentary that covers hot zones in the Arab world and elsewhere, News and war correspondent and Local news correspondent. She currently writes a regular column in AlSharq AlAwsat. She also wrote for Al-Hayat Newspaper and Al-Wasat Magazine, besides producing news bulletins and documentaries for Reuters TV. She can be found on Twitter: @dianamoukalled.

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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