Last Friday I passed Tahrir not long after prayer time. Small groups of men, dressed in clean galabeyas and many sporting long beards were talking animatedly and smiling as they made their way to the square to protest. They looked more as if they were on a daytrip with their friends rather than on their way to voice support for the strict implementation of Shari’a law in the constitution.
There were groups of women too, covered from head to toe in flowing black and brown garments. It was impossible to tell if they were chattering amiably among themselves as well, but their determined step, together with their choice of dress gave an impression of purpose; as much as the men were ambling along the women were striding towards their goal.
It seems the women are unleashed and are taking matters into their own hands. A few weeks ago there was the absurdity of the fully veiled teacher who cut of the hair of two of her pupils (my subsequent experiment at the paper was sadly cut short), and only last week we could feast our eyes on a graphic representation on how modest dress directly relates to being nice to the higher being.
A few days ago there seems to have been a merger of these two stories, when two fully veiled women decided it was time to teach one of their lesser enlightened sisters a much-needed lesson. While travelling in the Metro they forcefully grabbed a fellow passenger who was wearing her hair right out in the open. After they cut off the offending hair, modesty above all of course, they brutally pushed the woman off the train, causing her to fall and break her arm.
The shorn and assaulted woman adheres to another faith where modesty is not necessarily expressed in what you wear but rather in how you behave. It is the same difference to many of us, but to the two avengers of the subway it seemed to matter. What is the point of being right if you cannot impose your point of view on others? You already know that your way is the only way, so it is imperative to rub the ultimate truth in other people’s faces. Thankfully they make it easy by not covering up.
What happened that morning in the house of the veiled vigilantes? Little is known of these women but I imagine them, neighbours, sisters or friends, sharing a cup of tea after the rest of the family had left the house.
As they discussed their kids, their husbands, the price of food and the general gossip in their community one must have made a remark that got the unseemly ball rolling. Whatever it was must have been inspiring because before you could say cut they were positioned in the Metro, scissors in hand, ready to attack an innocent traveller who was minding her own business.
It also makes me wonder what it was like in that Metro carriage. The trains are seldom empty so it is safe to assume that there were quite a few other women around. Was there a conversation before the eager hairdressers swooped down on their victim? Some proper yelling and shoving that preceded the unwarranted attack? Did the rest of the passengers sit quietly and watched how a fellow female was humiliated and abused? Was there anyone who stood up and helped the woman after she broke her arm?
The Egypt that I have come to know has impressed and humbled me many times by the unexpected, wholehearted kindness that passing strangers have shown me. From a helping hand when I stumbled on the street to offers of carrying heavy bags, many people have shown me a courtesy that is hard to find on the streets where I am from.
Times have changed, or so it seems, and intolerance and smallness of spirit are on the rise. One of the most innately personal things, a religious belief, has become a yardstick used for judgment. Respect is turning into reckoning, understanding into denial and the wrath of the righteous will come to find you and your hair.
Hiding behind layers of religion and clothes, these brave anti-freedom fighters are setting the world to rights with their scissors. Modesty in its purest form.