Egypt: Women workers speak out – Women on the frontline of protest

Protest on the anniversary of the torture and sexual assault of demonstrators on 9 March 2011 - Picture by Gigi Ibrahim

Egyptian women were in the streets throughout the 18 day uprising against Mubarak, sleeping overnight in Tahrir Square as protesters fought back against attacks by pro-regime thugs. Since Mubarak’s fall, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has repeatedly sent police and soldiers to brutally tear down demonstrators’ protest camps. On 9 March 2011 a group of young activists were arrested in Tahrir Square and the women among them were subjected to sexual assaults inside the Egyptian Museum on the pretext of ‘checking their virginity’. Samira Ibrahim was among those who was arrested on 9 March. She spoke out in public, telling how she was assaulted by a male officer, beaten and subject to electric shocks, and launched a legal case against the army.

The horrific story of Samira Ibrahim is part of a much longer history of state violence against women protesters. Group sexual assaults on women demonstrators were a tactic employed by the Mubarak regime several years before the revolution. In 2005 women protesters were targeted in an attack by plain-clothed thugs working for the security forces in the street during a protest against the amendment of the constitution.

Ten thousand women march
by Nadine el-Enany

The women’s demonstration of 20 December 2011 was the biggest in Egypt since 1919. The demonstration was 10,000 women strong. What prompted it was the now familiar, but no less shocking, image of a woman protester being beaten, dragged through the streets and undressed by military officers. She was by no means the only woman protester treated in this way, but the image struck a chord with Egyptians, who live in a society where women have long been oppressed, hidden out of sight, confined to the home and expected not to speak out of turn. The image was not shown on Egyptian state television, but Tahrir protesters published it in the newspapers they produce “out of Tahrir”. On the day preceding the women’s demonstration, at a sit-in outside the High Court in central Cairo, a stone’s throw away from Tahrir Square, demonstrators hung a huge poster of the image out of the window of the court and handed out copies of the newspaper, desperately trying to show people the crimes SCAF are committing against protesters.

I participated in the women’s demonstration the following day. The women were urgent, angry and determined to make their voices heard, and themselves and their role in this revolution, visible. They were of all ages. They chanted, “Egyptian women and Egyptian men are one hand”. Women showed passers-by the image of the woman being attacked by soldiers, thrusting it in people’s faces, forcing them to witness the crimes of SCAF. Many had not seen the image and didn’t believe it, accusing the protesters of fabricating it, but the women marched on, all 10,000 of them, their voices one voice, propelling the Egyptian revolution along.

This is part of the MENA Solidarity Briefing: “Egypt in Revolution: Women workers speak out”. Read more by clicking on the links below

‘Here are the women’
Building the Independent Unions

Teachers’ unions build unity from below
Revolution in the hospitals: ‘The independent union knits everyone together’
‘Our strike was 100 percent solid’
Media workers fight to clean up state TV

To order hard copies of the briefing email
Get involved with building solidarity: find out more here

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