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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 26 March 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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In Islamic Egypt, Women Are Left Alone To Defend Their Modesty and Dignity


By Syed Shabbir Ahmad, New Age Islam

March 25, 2013

January 25, 2013 was the worst day in the history of Egypt, an Islamic state based on Shariah. 19 women protestors were gang-raped and sexually assaulted that day by anti-protest groups allegedly paid by Muslim Brotherhood headed by President Morsi. The women had gathered that day at the Tahrir Square to mark two years of the ouster of the dictator Hosni Mubarak but what they got was humiliation and stigma for life.

The anti-Brotherhood opposition has been protesting against the Muslim Brotherhood government alleging Morsi and the Brotherhood grabbing sweeping powers making him a despot while the Shariah based constitution was voted into law by only a minority. But the Brotherhood took an aggressive posturing against the protestors that included women in large numbers.

Harassment of women on streets had always been a social evil in Egypt, even during Hosni Mubarak’s tenure but it became an epidemic after Morsi came to power and apparently backed by the Morsi government. The opposition has alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood paid the perpetrators to rape women protestors to scare them away of Tahrir Square from where the revolution originated.

The crime of rape was further legitimised by Abu Islam, a Salafist cleric who even declared raping and harassing women protestors and killing of men protestors legitimate. He was subsequently arrested.

The government, the police and the civil society at large have been silent spectators to a heinous crime which Islam prohibits, that too in a country which boasts of its Islamic roots. Today, women on streets feel left alone, abandoned and helpless as soon as they come out on the streets. According to a survey, 83 per cent of women have experience harassment on streets.

It is not that only Egyptian women are harassed and raped. Even foreigners and foreign journalists have reported worst kind of sexual assault and harassment by any one from the local youth to elderly people, from taxi driver to police and military personnel. It is as if there is no law and order there.

So, the frustration of women was mounting as the government and the police looked the other way. It compelled them to think of their own way to defend their dignity. And Facebook came to their help.

A victim of the harassment came out with the idea of creating a Facebook page to fight harassment when an elderly driver verbally assaulted her. She took his photo and posted it on the facebook page called Efdah Motaharish (Expose harassers). She also posted the details of how he abused her. The page has become very popular among women and its membership has risen up to 8,000. The victims of harassment take photos or even video clippings of their harassers and post it along with details. This has given them the strength to stand up to the harassers on the streets.

Recently, women have become more defiant. They took a procession in protest of the harassment and rape brandishing knives and batons saying they will now fight back. They were guarded by anti-harassment group of men who have been on the lookout for harassers and chase them wherever they find them trying to touch or grope women. However, in such a situation ironically the police come to the rescue of the harassers and release them from the clutches of anti-harassment groups.  Gradually, the campaign has been gaining ground and more and more elderly people, parents and activists have joined anti-harassment movement.

Harassment and rape of women are a social evil rampant across the world. According to reports, all the civilised societies have been suffering from this psychological malady. But the impunity with which the rapists and harassers go scot free in Egypt is alarming and shameful for an Islamic republic. What has happened to the moral and ethical sense of Muslims even if there is no law or policing? The pictures and photographs displayed by the media tell the sorry state of affairs of the Muslim morality in Egypt. Women have been made an object of ridicule, considered devoid of any dignity and honour. They have become an object of sadistic pleasure by the ordinary men and the mullahs alike. Recall what Abu Islam said after the gang-rapes of 25 January about the women protestors. This shows what kind of respect they have for Muslim women:

“They tell you women are a red line. They tell you those naked women—who are going to Tahrir Square because they want to be raped—are a red line! And they ask Mursi and the Brotherhood to leave power! These women activists are going to Tahrir Square not to protest but to be sexually abused because they had wanted to be raped. They have no shame, no fear and not even feminism. Practice your feminism, sheikha! It is a legitimate right for you to be a woman,” he said. “And by the way, 90 percent of them are crusaders [i.e. Christian Copts] and the remaining 10 percent are widows who have no one to control them. You see women talking like monsters”.

Political aspirations of the Islamist parties have made them ignore and shun Islamic ethos to achieve political goals. It is heart rending to see teenage youth harassing and groping women and girls on streets with impunity as if they are some kind of sport. There were anti-rape protests in New Delhi, India after the gang rape on December 16 last year. Men and women, young girls and boys protested and fought with the police together but there were no reports of molestation or sexual harassment of women though most of the protestors were Hindus.

Certainly, there have been some serious gaps in the cultural and educational system of Islamic countries where social and economic corruption is higher than in non-Muslim countries. And despite all this Muslims claim they are the best community on earth, mercy to the mankind.