By Ahmed Tharwat
This is the story of Jihan and Rasha; two young activists whose lives were shattered forever. The story of the forced virginity test that was performed on young Egyptian women activists by military security during the height of the revolution.
The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a 9 March, 2011 rally in Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plainclothes attacked protesters, and the army forcefully intervened to clear the square. Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found that 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.
With the help of activist Karim Reda, I was able to get the phone numbers of two of these young women who had lived the “forced virginity test” ordeal: Rash Abdelrahman, a 28-year-old college student, and Jihan Mahmoud, a 29-year-old social worker.
I called Abdelrahman and said: “I would love to talk to you about the…” I wasn’t sure if I should say virginity test in Arabic in our first conversation, so I asked her: “Can I talk to you about the ordeal with the military?”
She caught my drift. “Ohhh, you mean … ‘Kashf Elozrayah’ [the virginity test],” she said causally. “Sure, give me your number and I will call you back.”
Two days later she called and asked if she could bring her friend, another young lady who was also a victim of the virginity tests.
Rasha and Jihan had never spoke to the media before. Finally, I spotted two young ladies talking, smiling and walking back and forth in front of the café.
Rasha was wearing a stylishly modern hijab, the one that just covers the head, and not the face, and a red dress over her jeans. She had an infectious laugh, and did most of the talking. Jihan was the quiet one; she had stylish short hair, a scarf around her neck, and magnetic deep dark eyes. Her dress was of a rebellious nature.
I first asked them to tell me what actually happened that day in March.
“The military wanted to break us, and humiliate us,” Rasha explained, “and as far as I’m concerned, Tantawi is a war criminal,” she said with a strong voice. “We were there at Tahrir for the general strike; we thought it would be like all other demonstrations,” Rasha added.
“We went to Tahrir, as usual,” Jihan explained, “the day was uneventful. Later at about 4pm, we found people in plainclothes started attacking us with rocks and Molotov cocktails. I had to get a stick to protect myself.”
Rasha and Jihan talked to me in more detail about their abducted friends, who were taken away to the Egyptian Museum and did not return. They went to find out what was happening. They were surprised to find themselves arrested, beaten, and verbally abused by military security.
“You are whores, decent girls stay home and don’t come to Tahrir,” the officer told them.
“The beating started,” Jihan said. “I told the officer who I had seen before in another confrontation, ‘no matter what you do to me, nothing will break me tonight.’ This was a challenge to him and he wanted to break us.”
“You are my game tonight,” he told Jihan. They tied them to the Egyptian Museum fence, beating them and verbally abusing them. Four hours later, they took them away to the military jail in the Hike-step, a military base in Cairo.
“Once I saw a big picture of Mubarak hanging on the wall of the office, I told myself, this can’t be good,” Rasha remembered.
They took them to a room where the female security guard started frisking them. They complained about the overzealous female security guard.
The female security guard asked them to undress completely.
“I could see the soldiers and officers standing outside watching what is going on inside the room” Jihan said. “All this was done by our military, the one who claimed they protected the revolution. If it was the security police I would understand it, but this our military. I just got rid of an old corrupt regime, to get this?”
It was late into the night. They were tired and frustrated, however, holding strong, their morale still high. “They really didn’t think we would be that strong,” Jihan explained. A military physician, Ahmed Adel walked into the room, and without a word had their hymens checked. Later and on 11 March, Adel was declared innocent by a military court.
They suffered together through a long night of beatings and humiliation. Then the military security took them to the military administrative center where they put Molotov bottles on table on front of them, started taking pictures of them without permission.
“You are taking picture of us, so you can distort our images in your media,’ Jihan told the officer. “This officer did something I will never forget,” Jihan said in a defiant voice. He kicked me so hard. It was personal, between me and him, not a security issue,” Jihan explained. Jihan and Rasha believed that the forced virginity tests were planned; it wasn’t just an oversight or mismanagement by a few angry individuals.
“They had higher orders,” Rasha said. In such a patriarchal society, the military wanted to discredit the young activists and the young revolutionaries’ movement altogether as decadent young troublemakers.
Then Jihan looked at herself and said: “My clothes have to stay on my body until I get my day in court, but in the jail, I was forced to take my clothes off, and forced to have my virginity checked… it is rape, I was raped that day.”
I finally asked both of them how this virginity test ordeal had affected their lives.
Jihan looked at me with her deep dark eyes, smiled and said nothing; until today her look still haunts me. This was their story, the story where two amazing young Egyptian women, exposing the Egyptian military that lost its virginity on that day.
Ahmed Tharwat, Host/Producer of Arab-American Belahdan TV
Freelance writer, blogs at www.ahmediatv.com