Eid brought Cairo to a virtual standstill, with traffic being the exact opposite for a change. Many people left town for a place of sunshine and salt water while those who have lesser means flooded the parks and banks of the Nile in the relatively quiet city. The feast of breaking the fast, Eid Al-Fitr, brought back fish to the menu, coffee in the morning and an end to nicotine deprivation for most of the people around me.
It also brought back sexual harassment and assault with a vengeance. In a bitter, ironic contrast to the purity of thought and deed that are an integral part of Ramadan, scores of young Egyptian men took to the streets to chase, grope and violate women wherever they could find them. Groups of men had organised themselves in patrols in preparation for Eid, in an attempt to safeguard the women of Egypt, yet pictures are flooding the internet of modestly dressed girls being assaulted.
Then again, what else is new in the realm where women and their rights are disrespected? Just this week, a politician who is attempting to be elected in the US and who opposes abortion citing his profound belief in God, introduced quantifiers on rape and cited magical biological properties that prevent women getting pregnant from being raped. It seems that female bodies will automatically shut down their reproductive systems when they are legitimately raped. Pardon my ignorance – I was not aware there was such a thing as legitimate rape.
The sheer offensiveness of this kind of behaviour and line of thought is of such magnitude that I cannot even get angry anymore. I am just stunned. I do not even know where to begin to point out the ignorance and sheer stupidity and to be frank, I no longer care to.
I have seen vigorous discussions on expat forums between foreigners and Egyptians, with some Egyptian men taking exception to the observations the women make about the harassment and violence they face on the streets of Cairo. From polite requests to focus on the good instead of the bad to encourage others to visit the country, to terse comments to tell them to go back where they came from, there are still many males that do not want to acknowledge the size of the problem that exists on the streets of the capital.
It is a hopeful sign when Egyptians get together and organise themselves to protect their sisters, daughters and mothers. It is good to see many men speaking out against the behaviour of those that seemingly see nothing wrong with treating women with disrespect and violence. It is endlessly sad that there is a need for it and I for one am no longer interested in the reasons why it happens.
One could argue that the sticks and stones principle applies when it comes to what the 60 year old man said to me a few nights ago as I walked to catch a taxi at 8 pm. I choose not to. Do I really care that he called me a whore? No, I don’t. The man does not even know my name, knows nothing about me and therefore his opinion of me holds no value. Am I offended by his automatic judgement that the fact I have a white face automatically means that I have no moral code? Again, no – and for the same reason.
What is offensive is that the guy who called me a prostitute felt he had the right to say it. It is offensive that a politician can spout ridiculous rhetoric and imaginary facts and can attempt to define degrees of horrendous sexual violence. It is more than offensive that people seem to accept that groping and sexual assault have become as much a part of Eid as eating kahk is.
The realisation that it is becoming harder and harder to respect people as a given is painful. The widespread sexual assault and harassment and the blatant disrespect that women are shown all over the world by males with an imagined superiority complex is slowly but surely resulting in a guilty until proven innocent attitude on my part. The longer this goes on, the more likely I will carry a healthy dose of disdain as I venture out on the streets. Next to a can of pepper spray in my pocket.