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Editor’s letter: Cover up woman

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Women are always to blame for whatever happens to them, in almost every culture and religion

Maher Hamoud

Advice to women to cover up in order to protect themselves from horny men is readily available in this part of the world – sometimes stated indirectly, and very often fought against. Sometimes you win and other times you lose the argument. Winning or losing here depends on the social and cultural context. It becomes more controversial; however, when covering up is explicitly provided as a solution to sexual harassment – which I prefer to call sexual violence – the phenomenon in Egypt has increasingly gone beyond what we can identify as ‘harassment.’

Women are always to blame for whatever happens to them, in almost every culture and religion. Of course! Why not? Aren’t most religions of the world interpreted by men?!

The express solution of covering up, offered directly to one’s face, can have a peculiar impact on the receiver. It can in some circumstances distract from the whole issue of sexual violence against women, focusing attention on the speaker himself. What kind of life and background does he have to cause him to believe such a thing? It is of importance to understand and analyze the person, and whatever personal development led to such a clear and confident solution in his mind.

The last debate on sexual violence I engaged in took place on my Facebook wall, after I shared some tips for women on how to physically defend themselves if assaulted in the street.

Comments and reactions were normal, ranging from liking to disliking. Nothing much said was new and all was fine and enriching, until an old and good friend who I haven’t seen for more than ten years and who I’d always considered to be a knowledgeable person and a liberal moderate, commented on my post. Very briefly and very confidently, he stated, “The solution is very easy: cover up.”

The argument then got very interesting and people started listing reasons why such a solution is unfair. Some approached the matter from a personal rights angle, others from a religious one. Agreed-upon concepts of freedom and privacy were cited, and Quranic verses were referred to, highlighting that Islam grants people’s safety and the issue of what is known in the Hadeeths as ‘road’s right’, whereby a person should not violate other’s privacy. Many interesting, well-thought out and diverse comments were kindly provided to my old friend.

Well, none of this had the desired effect. He became increasingly offensive and started to insult those who disagreed with him. Not mentioning the insults, here was one of his thoughts: “The problem in Egypt is simply a lot of ladies walking in the street half-naked […] they arouse those young sexually deprived boys. Those youngsters get [so] easily hyped up that sometimes [even] when there is someone dressed properly walking by, they still harass. As they say, do not ask for attention, if you cannot deal with it.”

My old friend claimed that it is women’s fault that men are sexually deprived. It is women’s fault that there are men experiencing animalistic desires causing them to be hungry for female flesh. It is their mistake: they should simply cover up. Animals are animals, what can we do!

What is more interesting than all of the above, what should cause one to puzzle and wonder about cultural difference and backgrounds again, is that this friend is not some uneducated, illiterate man residing in a remote Egyptian village. The person in question, who used to be my friend before the debate erupted, is a very well-educated Egyptian-American living in New York.

About the author

Maher Hamoud

Maher Hamoud

Former Editor-in-Chief

Former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily News Egypt, and currently Media Politics Analyst. He can be followed on Twitter @MaherHamoud1, his public page on Facebook, or email: [email protected]

  • Salma

    A weak and unintelligent piece put together quickly without a second thought. It obviously hasn’t been edited and falls in line with a blog rant. Editor in Chief? Really now?

  • Ameera

    I went to Egypt last year, I was right there in Cairo near Tahrir Sq. and the museum, I left 5 the country fays before the revolution, I never saw any woman dressed immodestly, Bad people are everywhere in this world, not only in Egypt, and that kind of person takes advantage of the chaos in the country to do the things they do.

  • Heather

    Blog Rant, Salma? I think not. What Maher has written about is a problem in patriarchal societies. Not only that, blaming others for your problems, and not taking responsibility (on the man’s side too) is a problem I’ve noticed in the Middle East. Harassment, or sexual violence comes in many forms ranging from verbal to physical. Why is it that in places like New York, where there are plenty of women dressed immodestly, women are not harrassed as much as they are here? Why is it in other Middle Eastern countries, harassment on the street doesn’t happen as much as it does it Egypt? They are both Muslim countries, follow strict moral codes and respect for family and women in particular is very important. Is it the women’s fault? No…it’s the mentality in society. Women do not have rights. Even when they want to protest, men want to harass them and tell them to go home where they belong. So, no…this is not a point to be brushed under the rug. In fact, it’s very important. And comments like Salma’s only illustrates why it is such a problem in Egyptian society. People want to dismiss it as something insignificant. It is not. And unless people start paying attention…women will continue to be blamed for something that is not their fault? Cover up? Should they disappear? I had a friend who wore Niqab, and she was still groped. The problem is not with covering up…the issue is the mentality of Egyptian society of both men and women.

    • Christina

      I concur with this post entirely. It is definitely more of a social practice in patriarchy societies that has gone on for decades. Both men and women need to be aware and educated on individuals rights in a culture and society as well as respect the genders. I work in Egypt three months out of every year for the last four years. I dress and present myself in a very modest form, in respect of the culture. In saying that, I still have been groped. Not because I was an exposed American / tourist, but because I was a women. I’ve only experienced a few issues regarding being a woman and it definitely does not stop me from working in Egypt and fully respecting my colleagues and friends in which I’ve made while working there. Social change will change if people work at it and it won’t happen tomorrow, but it will take time. The women of Egypt are very strong and will work and demand the respect of men in their country.

    • John Johnson

      I have lived my many places in the Middle East. This is the first time living in Egypt. When I lived in the UAE, harassing women was NOT tolerated. Laws are in place to protect Muslims and non-Muslim women from this type of harassment. It does not matter where you live, harassment happens in Western, Buddhist, Asian, Jewish, and Muslims societies. It is pity that shallow people blame the women for the problems created by man. It is like saying, a man is walking down the street, he drops his money, and the person behind him sees it fall, but states, well its his fault he lost his money, I get to keep it. Laws must be enforced to protect women from these types of harassment, and punish those who violate them. On the other side of the coin, women should dress modestly (no bikini’s in the mall) to add a small layer of protection from unscrupulous and unmoral men. If a man was grope by another man, is that ok? Especially if it is unwarranted or unwanted? The door should swing both ways, not just one way!

  • ahmed

    I didn’t necessarily like the writing style too much ya salma, but i would thank maher and those at DNE for continuing to choose to highlight this problem in our society…

  • Preston Xander

    Salma’s technique is simple distraction. She can’t address the content so she generally and abstractly goes after the form. I think we all know she’s either a Stockholm syndrome self-hating woman or a man pretending to me a woman online.

    People should be able to dress however they want. Period.

  • rabi

    This article is just a call for coverinh up women

  • Amanda

    great piece, which makes some great points – in particular, it’s about time “sexual harassment” was given it’s proper name, “sexual violence”. in egypt, we currently call everything from filthy looks up and down, to severe sexual assault “sexual harassment”. there should be a distinction – shouting dirty things at women in the street is wrong, but touching is assault, and needs a different word, imho.

    i dont know why so many men would want to spread this idea that men are weak creatures with no impulse control whatsoever? i find it very sexist against men. if a man sees something he likes in a store, he will just steal it (he sees, he wants, he takes)? that’s the logic. how is any man able to fast during ramadan, since they are apparently unable to control themselves at all?

    if women are required to wear knee length dresses, than their ankles will become uncontrollably sexy. if they are required to wear long sleeves, than all of a sudden their fingers will be viewed as uncontrollably sexy. it gets to the point where if they are required to cover their faces even that’s not enough, because their eyes, or even the way they walk will be viewed as uncontrollably sexy. On the other hand there are some societies where until recently people walked around totally naked or with just a loincloth. it’s all about what people are used to. a man who can’t interact with a woman without being overcome by sexual thoughts, probably needs to see more women, not less.

    this problem is definitely a cultural one about what’s acceptable and what isn’t in society. by making excuses and blaming women for sexual violence, we condone that behaviour and make ourselves guilty by association. well done to Maher and The Daily News for giving sexual harassment its right name: sexual violence.

    • Amanda

      if you mean me…?

      i’m Egyptian. besides, anyone who is against the killing of innocent protestors for exercising their right to free speech should have spent time in Tahrir.

      no one paid me to spend time there. perhaps you’d like to volunteer, since i can’t think why anyone would be leaving accusatory comments on a weeks-old article unless someone was paying them to do so, lol. ;)

  • Hans

    I don’t like the argument. “We are animals. We can’t do anything about it. That’s just the way things are”

    It’s insulting to men and gives molesters an excuse. There is no excuse for this. To my ears it sounds the same as: “She was flirting with me, she wanted it.” by a child molester.

    They are basically saying: “It wasn’t my fault.”

    Like in this ad: http://issmstudents.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/hijab-lollipop1.jpg

  • louise

    If only people would re-read the article, Maher did not refer to men as animals he is rephrasing what a friend of his said!!

  • Marion

    I have always said that this problem must be addressed in schools and religious institutions. Rather than ranting about how much Egyptians hate the Jews in every Friday sermon, why not talk about how much Egyptians hate sexual harassment???

  • Mostafa N. Mamdouh

    This shouldn’t turn out to be a “toss the ball in the other’s court” game… the Islamic view point on the matter is very clear:

    Allah asks Muslims (men and women) in the Quran to not STARE/GAPE at the opposite sex… Of course this implicitly implies that anything more than that is prohibited whether it is harassment (violence), fornication…etc.

    Allah also asks women to cover up…the characteristics of islamic hijab are also clear if anyone cares to research it…the debate is only about covering up the face and hands (mandatory or up to you).

    My point is: I do not believe that this is even a social issue… harassment is prohibited by Islam. The same applies to not wearing Hijab. Are they related… i doubt… it is naive to believe that not wearing hijab will result in harassment

    Most women in Egypt (even face-veiled) get harassed at a point in time in their lives by men of all kinds… single and married, educated and illiterate, rich and poor, young and old. From the male point of view they all do it for different reasons; one would be simply looking for his significant other, one is unhappy with his marriage and is looking for an affair, one is bored and passing time, one is doing it for fun, one is trying to embarrass a particular girl, one is horny and wants to get laid, one is proving his coolness and heterosexuality among his classmates…the list goes on.

    Truly abiding by the Islamic teachings solves all the above since if he truly believes it is prohibited and that God is watching him do it he will refrain whether other people are witnessing or not…

    Its also important to note that “some” women “LIKE” to be harassed and be the center of attention. It gives them reassurance of their beauty and attractiveness bla bla…

    Its also very important to note that the harassing is sometimes committed by women as witnessed by yours truly…

    Solution: educate the muslim men about the prohibition of harassment…covering up women will not solve it…

  • Corinne

    I was in Egypt as a tourist for two weeks in the Spring of 2012. I loved the ancient sites, the educated tour guides, the food, etc. I dressed modestly, covering up shoulders and legs. Nevertheless, I was touched unwanted by all kinds of men, in stores, on the street. I even started to take my then 8-year old son along, as a chaperon… And I must admit, that I was totally ready to leave after those two weeks, because of the absolutely sexually harassing or violent behavior of many Egyptian men.

    • Mostafa N. Mamdouh

      Dear Corinne,

      My apologies to you on behalf of the Egyptians for your bad experience…

  • Sameh M.

    sex is a taboo subject in Egypt, most egyptian men are sexually frustrated and desperate, thats why they harass women all the time
    I believe there should be more sexual liberty in Egypt

    • Amanda

      I agree there should be more sexual freedom, but sexual harassment cannot be blamed on sexual frustration: women are equally frustrated and yet we are not harassing men.

      Besides, we all know the difference between what society says about sex and what really happens here.

      There is a proven link between sexual harassment and fear or hatred of women, not desire. Surveys show that the women who get harassed most are not the most beautiful or wearing the least clothes…harassment is about power and bullying, not desire.

      Most guys shout things at women on the street knowing it will not lead anywhere, and many of the things which are shouted are aggressive not flirtatious. The guys are not trying to have sex, they are bullying.

      • Amanda

        if you mean me…?

        my reason for being in Egypt is that i’m egyptian. i dont believe Egypt is a country of sex-crazed men at all, and that is not how i portray it at all.

        carrying out sexual violence against women makes the men who do it look bad, of course. just as murdering makes murderers look bad, and stealing makes thieves look bad.


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