My views, observations, questions about everything in this world ....and that country they call Egypt.

02 November 2006

Trapped In The Eyes Of A Stranger

The following is my translation of From Zaqaziq To Cairo.

I am from Zaqaziq, and until recently I thought that I was one of the few people who went through unusual personal experiences of sexual harassment, which I suffered from since I was little…. No, since I was very little.

I will not forget the first time this happened when I was walking on the street on Eid as well. I was about 15 at the time. I was walking with my cousin, who is 3 years my elder, and with my aunt in the middle. A group of at least 15 young men blocked our way in a busy main road that was well lit. Suddenly they divided into 2 groups and approached us from the both sides. We found ourselves encircled in fury of holding, touching, groping, and probing accompanied by dirty words and vulgar language describing what each one of them was doing or wanted to do to us.

I never forgot, and never will, my feelings at the time. It was the first time I was touched in those parts of my body, and the first time I heard the words that were spoken, which I never imagined would ever be said to me. The strange thing is that there were a lot of people on the street that saw the act but walked on minding their own business. What is this? Where is honor? Where is the Egyptian manliness, dignity, and altruism that we’ve been hearing about since the day we were born? My only experience of this is weak and superficial gentlemanliness that was mostly closer to flirting than anything else. So it wasn’t just for the sake of it, and it might have been all because I am not ugly. (is that a crime???)

Anyways, I never thought I would ever see a day worse than this, or get harassed any more awful than this. After a short time, these harassments started repeating again: an animal on a bike would touch me from behind and sometimes the front as he quickly goes by, very dirty looks from shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and neighbors. Oh and what do you know about neighbors? I grew older and body changed, but I always thought that it was a good thing not something to be ashamed of ,or a source of harassment that my young mind and life-loving heart did not comprehend. I got scared of walking on the streets and started making rules on what I should and shouldn’t do to protect myself from their hungry eyes and hungry hands.

No going out on the street with tight jeans or a shorter shirt. No going out at all in the streets where the youth hang out for hours, which are well known in my small town. No need to put make-up or do my hair or pay too much attention to my looks. Why would I do that and for whom? Even my girlfriends’ thoughts became dominated by the stinky, radical, male-inspired ideas of the necessity of covering (hijab) the woman because she is a source of temptation that must be hidden. Maybe that’s from what they experienced too and maybe it’s from their ignorance and stupidity. I hated their disapproving looks at me when I wore something elegant that suits my age, personality, and taste and maybe even drew attention moderately and with modesty (what’s wrong with that?). I hated their silly remarks as if I was wearing what the belly dancers wore and not a normal jeans and shirt.

I changed the way I dress, and I neglected the way I look, yet I started to be experience a new type of harassment. What was strange was that some of it was worse than before, but I didn’t give up. I came up with a theory, which at the time I thought was brilliant. I lived in a small town that was surrounded by small villages. So I shouldn’t really take my liberty in wearing what I want as every place has it’s stature. I don’t even need to go on the street, as it’s no longer the place for people who want to maintain their self-respect. It’s enough that I used taxis to go to my friends’ houses or any other closed place. I hated the street, the people, and my looks, and I was on the verge of real depression until I decided to change my life and move to my uncle’s place in Cairo.

Yes, Cairo is bigger and the peasants are less and the harassments are less. No, sorry, they’re different but not less. I won’t be touched in every street but I can buy a 150LE ticket for live western band, meaning the people are mostly well-off and educated, and still get harassed by large numbers as if there was an implied agreement between the youth to do so. I would feel a touch in a sensitive area and turn to that direction to shout and fight but find a very cool and innocent response from the man. All the men around him would have the same reaction as if I was crazy and nothing happened. And when I look ahead someone else would touche me and the same thing repeats over and over again. I change my spot but another animal or animals would harass me in the same way as if it’s a group sex party not a concert.

Now I want a response to my question. What should I do? Should I not go out? Should I not go to live shows? Should I not walk on the street? Should I not swim when I go to Alexandria? What do I do? Hide? The stray dogs and cats walk go on the streets with no trouble! Are the women in Egypt now lower than cats and dogs?

Forget that, someone tell me what happened to the people? Did religion and morals become just superficial facades that have no base, importance, or meaning? Do men in Egypt really believe that sexual harassment and rape are earned rights? And is this a retarded male ideology or sexual suppression, or anger or what exactly?

Someone tell me, what happened to Egypt?


Blogger Juka said...

YES, to every single question in that final paragraph. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

2:01 PM

Blogger abdallah ahmed , عبدالله احمد said...

we dont respect ourselves or others

3:04 PM

Anonymous ha ana za said...

It doesn't surprise me that she feels like this- all women feel like this in Egypt. And what can we do???? There seems to be no solutions as the attacks showed even niqabi women were targeted. We are harassed just for being women!

9:25 PM

Blogger Red Tulips said...

It is a problem, and it stems from a complete sexual immaturity and shame of sex. I believe that is the root of all evil.

When a Mufti says that women are uncovered pieces of meat, it excuses rape. There is a problem in the culture.

11:33 PM

Blogger Dubai Stud said...

not being egyptian, never having been to egypt, when I read about the the post 'When The Crowds Are Gone' on this blog I was saddened and shocked, and assumed it was a one-off occurence.

after reading this post I'm left wondering, in the words of Zaqaziq, do men in Egypt really believe that sexual harassment and rape are earned rights? And pondering over over the question, if this state of affairs is indeed the norm, how has egypt reached such a state of brutal behaviour towards females, the very people who have given birth to them? I raise this question because people are quite rightly asking what can be done to eradicate this repugnant ideology. Finding the cause should help us come up with solutions that will help eliminate this disease from egypt.

1:35 AM

Blogger Basil Fawlty said...

You know, I'm from Zaqaziq. It feels like a million miles away from where I am now.

Oh, and please. You totally mischaracterised the problem, Dubai Stud. The problem here is the RESPONSE to rape, not the rape itself. There is no more rape in Egypt than there is in the US, the UK or, yes, even Dubai. So let's not get carried away with hyperbole.

Our problem is denial, self righteousness and a lack of accountability, in addition to a disregard for women's feelings and rights. It's not like there are roaming gangs of men raping women indiscriminately. This isn't an Egyptian disease, it's a crime that needs to have the laws and educational framework in place to eradicate it.

3:24 AM

Blogger Dubai Stud said...


"You totally mischaracterised the problem"

Does this sound like there is no problem in Egypt:

"What should I do? Should I not go out? Should I not go to live shows? Should I not walk on the street? Should I not swim when I go to Alexandria? What do I do? Hide? The stray dogs and cats walk go on the streets with no trouble! Are the women in Egypt now lower than cats and dogs?"

"The problem here is the RESPONSE to rape, not the rape itself."

basil, with respect, please re-read your statement.

"This isn't an Egyptian disease, it's a crime that needs to have the laws and educational framework in place to eradicate it."

so are you saying there are no laws against molesting women and rape in Egypt currently?

2:11 PM

Blogger shlemazl said...

I used to think that the Russian women had it worst of all. It is fairly normal for Russian males to beat their wives. There is even a saying "if he beats you than he loves you". Police does not take violence at home seriously. I saw statics that a Russian woman is 1000 times more likely to be beaten to death by her husband than an American one.

Still, if anything like the stories you are telling were happenning in Russia in public, all males would protect women. I am not longer sure Russian women have it worst of all.

4:33 AM

Blogger THE DUDE said...

I blame the very conservative culture of egypt.

There is no outlet for young men to flirt and yes ... even have premarital sex...

So occasionally the lid blows over...

I see the events of Eid as a subconscious rebellion to the hijab-isation of egyptian society.

I live in thailand and this incident could never happen here..

No they are not more 'moral' than you but everybody has a girlfriend..and they have sex too...

so wake up and smell the coffee..

PS. Prepare for more mayhem next year

7:04 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i had the unique experience of first being molested during 'omrah (which i assume you know is the mini-version of hajj, ie, pilgrimage to mekkah) so i was forced to make the distinction quite early on between religion and morality.
one can be with religion and without morals and vice versa.
-are the men of egypt without either? i doubt it, to be without conscience/psychopathic is rather rare.
-do the men of egypt consider harassment and rape a right?
well i doubt they'll be arguing to include it fil dustur (the constitution)
-is this retarded male ideology/sexual suppression/anger?
i'm a 20 year old virgin, so speaking from the POV of someone who's suffered 2 decades of sexual repression i can safely say, no i do not feel the need to grope random men. i'm angry at the patriarchy i deal with everyday but still i dont feel the need to grope random men.

so whats the difference between me and them-- just genitalia?
i dont think so.

do i know better? maybe-- but the real question is do these men know better...
and i think they do, to a certain extent

maybe not to the point where they see a woman as an equal what should she do?

i think she SHOULD go out and YELL damn it, make them wonder why she's crazy and reacting that way

make them see she has emotion, a life, and a mind

because they just might ask themselves what that means, and that question is the beginning of so much...

-Sarah, a friend at

5:03 AM

Anonymous Kirsten namskau said...

I would like to borrow this story for my blogg.
I live in Egypt (Cairo, Maadi)and am familiar with many of her experiences.

11:15 AM

Anonymous N said...

This comment comes months later, I know, but I had to say something. It maddens me when both Egyptians and especially non-Egyptians read blogs like this and think Egyptians have no respect for women. I lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the US and I have to tell you this is NOT some virus affecting just Egyptians. I've been grabbed in all three countries. I was only 13, a KID, the first time it happened in Saudi Arabia. A friend of mine who lives in France was walking in the middle of two male friends and was very open grabbed at.

Has anyone been to a concert in the US? What the lady from Zaqazeek described about her expierience at a concert in Cairo is almost exaxctly what happened to me at a Green Day concert in California. What about after a softball game where both teams shake hands and say "good game"? Who would have the nerve to slap a girl's butt walking down that line? See? Americans do it too...

The difference and why we get more upset about it in Egypt is because supposedly Egyptians have higher moral values and religion guiding us. And for some Egyptians, this is true. But Egypt is not like it used to be. It's a lot more "western" and a lot less truly religious. But we think and hope that people still have their values and their religion and so the disappointment we feel when something like this happens in Egypt is far greater than if it were to happen elsewhere.

But it's evevrywhere. They do it because they can. Why do we all do things that we know are wrong?

Lately this sort of thing has slowed down, thank God. Probably because I've learned to be more careful. My experiences have made me paranoid and anytime I'm in public I think to myself, "protect your body." I watch out for people walking up behind me. I step aside and let them pass. I never stand near a crowd unless someone is with me, standing behind me. And if a group of guys are walking my way, I make sure there's enough space. And if there isn't, I will absolutetly cross the street. This is more true in Egypt because of the lack of space issue.

I haven't been to another concert here unless I am seated or have a crowd of friends with me, surrounding me.

I would never stand on the street while trying to unlock my car because anyone walking by or biking can mean bad news. This is mainly in Egypt because of the population density. I'll wait until everyone has passed before I turn around to get into my car.

The list goes on and on. But it's not as hard as it sounds and it has become second nature to me.

So girls... don't worry about changing how you look or what you wear. That doesn't do much. Just always expect the worst and react accordingly.

My two cents :)

8:19 PM


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