By Bianca Jagger
Under Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the mistreatment of women has triggered unspeakable outrage. Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that she was detained, stripped and searched in a room with two open doors and a window, through which male soldiers looked and took pictures of the naked women. According to Amnesty, ‘The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution… one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.’
Rasha Azab, a journalist, told Amnesty that when she and 17 other women were detained, they were ‘handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, given electric shocks in the chest and legs, and called “prostitutes”. Rasha Azab was released, but her fellow detainees were taken to a military prison in Heikstep, and brought before a military court on March 11, 2011. Human rights organizations vigorously oppose the trial of civilians by military tribunal. The women were ultimately released on March 13th 2011, some with one year suspended sentences.
Egypt is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Virginity tests are in explicit violation of the convention.
Samira Ibrahim was detained in prison for four days along with 6 other women. During that time, she says ‘soldiers repeatedly beat her, gave her electric shocks, screamed at her, and then forced her to strip for a man in military clothes who checked if she was a virgin.’ Samira Ibrahim took the military to the Egyptian court, and on the 27th of December 2011, the court outlawed virginity testing. The Washington post called Samira Ibrahim ‘the woman behind Egypt’s ban of virginity tests.’
Actions like Samira Ibrahim’s are the beginning of the road to a free Egypt that recognizes and grants women their rights and dignity in Egyptian society. On December 20th 2011, thousands of women marched in Tahrir Square to denounce the brutal behavior of SCAF towards women, the largest women’s rights protest in Egypt’s history.
But the ban on virginity tests, like the definition of ‘thuggery’ under the ‘lifted’ Emergency Law, leaves much room for other abuse. As Amnesty International unequivocally states, “Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment…”
Today, one year later, protesters are back in Tahrir Square, to finish what they started. This time, they are demanding the immediate removal of SCAF and the handing over of power to a democratically elected government, the end of the Emergency law and military tribunals, and the release of all political prisoners. The Egyptians will no longer sit back and watch their rights being stripped away. They are challenging the army over issues such as military trials for civilians, the return of media censorship, and the delay in transition to an elected government.
They are challenging the autocratic military rule through peaceful protest and they have been expressing their concerns through a renaissance of music, poetry, and art.
First Lieutenant Mahmoud Sobhi El Shinawi, a policeman and trained marksman, has been captured in videos shooting protesters in the eye. Shinawi, known as the ‘Eye Hunter,’ is thought to have blinded at least five people. One of his victims, Ahmed Harrara, told CNN that he’d arrived in Tahrir Square around 3 p.m. Saturday [the 19th of November, 2011] “and joined the front lines in (the) street battle… Around 3 a.m. I was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet from about a distance of 7 to 10 meters (23 to 33 feet),” he said. CNN goes on to report that he subsequently lost his other eye, before falling to the ground during a tear gas attack. Ahmed Harrara has become a hero of the Egyptian revolution.
The Middle East Research and Information Project describes how the artist Mu’tazz Nasr created what became an iconic emblem of the uprising: a one-eyed lion. “Every time I walked across the Qasr al-Nil bridge,” he says, “I felt the lion was a witness to what was happening in the square.” The image was shared on the Internet, and protesters began to apply real eye patches to statues around Cairo: to the lion, and to other figures immortalized in downtown squares, like Naguib Mahfouz, Simon Bolivar and Tal’at Harb, the early twentieth-century captain of industry and banking “The inspiration just spread,” Nasr says. “Maybe there were many of us thinking the same way.”
Apart from removing the head of the old regime, the ruling body is still very much alive, but as much as SCAF would like to silence the Tahrir protesters, they cannot undo what has happened to each and every Egyptian, ‘a psychological revolution,’ according to Egyptian author Khaled Alkhamissi, “Egyptians have to understand that what has happened amounts to a social revolution, that the political revolution will come.” January 25th, 2011 may not have led directly to a democratic, free Egypt, but it was definitely the first step, as the most important part has already been achieved- The barrier of fear to demand basic human rights and dignity has been broken. Everyday, Egyptians are speaking out against the crimes of SCAF, and will not rest until the military officers responsible for the heinous human rights violations are held accountable. As Egyptian journalist Hania Sholkamy writes “The past year may not have delivered democracy, but it has enabled Egyptians to challenge autocracies.”
The Egyptian peoples’ revolution must not be allowed to be hijacked by the military. The Egyptians, more than ever, need the support of the international community during this critical period, to achieve their goals. Now is the time for President Obama to get off the fence and stop equivocating. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with the Egyptian people and support their aspirations to establish a democratic society. The international community must echo the protesters’ call for the immediate removal of SCAF, for military officials to be held accountable for their crimes, and for the handover of power to an elected government.
Bianca Jagger is a Nicaraguan-born social and human rights advocate and a former actress and model. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BiancaJagger This article is published with permission from the author. It was first published in The Huffington Post.