CAIRO: Thousands of Egyptian women took to the streets of downtown Cairo on Tuesday denouncing the excessive use of violence and sexual abuse by the Egyptian army against female protesters, drowning out the relevance of an official apology to "Egypt’s great women" published on SCAF’s Facebook page four hours after the march started.
The march, which included about 6,000 women and around 2,000 men, began in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution, and headed to the Journalists’ Syndicate. Protesters had a loud and clear message for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces: "Egypt’s women are the red line."
Mothers, daughters and grandmothers marched hand in hand chanting against the military, calling for their fellow Egyptians on the streets and in their homes to join them in demanding that the military step down immediately.
“The Egyptian women are the red line, the military and security forces are trying to break and dishonor women so they would not go to the square,” said Shahira Amin, a state TV anchor and deputy head of Nile News, who had resigned briefly during the January uprising in protest at the skewed coverage.
“The military has used the state media to spread lies and lead the Egyptian people to hate the revolution,” Amin added. “Usually I am here covering, but today I am an activist; we are extremely angry and nothing will stop us,” she yelled.
Many women chanted with fervor as tears streamed down their faces while they held photographs of the stripped and beaten female protesters.
“The barrier of fear has been broken,” one woman chanted in Arabic. “Tell Tantawy that Egyptian girls will not be intimidated.”
“My sister was beaten and stripped and it was my army who stripped her,” yelled one girl furiously as she led chants.
Impassionate women of all ages led the chants, many accompanied by their sons and daughters in a show of solidarity.
As the chants rocked the streets of downtown Cairo, more and more men were encouraged to join in, vigorously calling for the removal of the ruling army council.
The women marchers, who were protected and cordoned by a human shield of male protesters, also chanted for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawy, head SCAF and de facto ruler, to step down and face trial for his crimes against the Egyptian people.
One woman protester stood in the middle of Talaat Harb Street in downtown Cairo raised both her hands to the sky and chanted angrily to observers who stood in their balconies: “Join us, those who were stripped and beaten were your sisters.”
"We’re against how we can easily be stripped and beaten as we saw in these images just so the army can intimidate the people from going to the streets to demand their rights,” said Nagla Ahmed Youssef, a middle-aged protester.
Teary-eyed, Youssef spoke with fervor against the actions of army soldiers who she said also beat her on Friday and Saturday as protesters and security forces continued to clash near the parliament building when a sit-in against the government of current premier Kamal El-Ganzoury was dispersed violently.
"On Friday, at the Cabinet, I was beaten by army soldiers, they kicked me and shoved me," she said, "they took my wallet and phone, but eventually gave only my wallet back."
Accompanying the soldiers were plain-clothed officers, thugs, and one central security officer, Youssef said.
On Saturday, Youssef, said she joined protesters and was beaten again, this time slapped by an army soldier, as she tried to assist a young female journalist who was being harassed by army officers who wanted to take her camera.
Many women felt that the excessive use of violence against women is a mechanism to instill fear into the hearts of Egyptians.
“The army has attacked both men and women, but historically it’s been seen that once you target women, you create fear to prevent them from going out,” said Jasmine Khalifa, a protester in her mid-20s.
Khalifa added that seeing men in power engaging in such violent actions also gives others in society the right to beat or sexually harass women without worrying about repercussions.
“This is what the old regime was doing, it’s an old trick but they have gotten even dirtier,” she said.
“I see that today is a different day, this march is the first of its kind, where women are out in the street for their rights,” said Mozn Hassan, head of the board of Nazra for Feminist Studies. “Today is a march for women who have been engaged in the public sphere and violated, so people joined, this is a step to see women as a real key actor in the fight for Egypt.”
Nazra is currently conducting a study outlining the systematic use of violence against female protesters and the implications that this kind brutality has on Egyptian society.
The organization believes that the military uses such brutal force against women to instill fear in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people.
“I think this is part of militarization which is systematic targeting of women based on gender violations to keep them out of the public space,” Hassan told Daily News Egypt.
Egypt’s first female presidential candidate, Bothaina Kamel, was also among the protesters chanting, holding up a sign that read: “Military are liars,” referring to a press conference held by SCAF Monday where they denied using live ammunition against protesters and also stated that the abuse of the young female who was stripped and beaten happened within a “specific context.”
“I am not just here today for the girls,” Kamel said. “I am here for the 12 who were murdered by the army, I am here for SCAF to step down and hand over power to a civilian government, the military gives us more and more reason everyday to go to the streets and protest,” she told DNE.
Ghada Kamal Ahmed Abdel Khaleq, an activist with the April 6 Youth Movement who was dragged by the hair by army personnel on Friday, also joined the protesters in Tahrir Square.
“A woman is a citizen, she has the right to protest, demand her rights, attend university, and participate in society just like anyone else… Egyptian women were at the forefront of the January 25 revolution,” said Amr Abdel Basset, a business student at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. “I have been here for three days witnessing the violence, and I am here today for them in solidarity.”