I was there and I have seen it coming then happening eventually. the shameful and violent ending of the “ women’s march ‘ on the 8th of march 2011 .
The march was supposed to be a popular initiative to celebrate the International women day in two parallel ways, 1st by arranging an honorary march that’s dedicated to the female and male martyrs of the revolution , and 2nd by holding banners on which the slogans , mottos and demands of the march were written .
The initiative was totally independent , no organizations or political parties were involved , however they offered their support to the march and the coalition of Egyptian feminist organizations promised to be with us in “ Tahrir “ square which actually happened.
We were and still are representing ourselves as young men and women who believe in women rights .we were not representing the organizations nor the foundations we are working with .
The demands were not provocative yet controversial and fair at the same time. Most of them were related to writing a new civilian constitution that guarantees equality for all Egyptians and ends all sorts of discrimination against any one and every one. Some of the demands were based on the need of setting a serious of legislation and laws that give women their fair rights and on the other side protect them from violence indoors or outdoors. The last and most controversial demand was mainly about women’s right to run for presidency which seems to be rejected by almost all of the people that were out there in ( Tahrir ) square who didn’t seem to be huge fans of ( women rights ).
Before going through what happened during the demonstrations we have to make it clear that we expected that people may not support the cause , they may try to interrupt our message , and that they may try to be against delivering it .
Even in our first meetings when we’ve been working on what we want to achieve through this march we expected that the fight for the cause will never be easy and this is why we made sure that our demands should never be separated from the main political demands of all Egyptians at this critical moment of our history . this is also why we tried to work on things bring us together as Egyptian citizens like emphasizing the real meaning of citizenship for a new Egypt , citizenship in terms of equality between men and women , Muslims and Christians , and citizenship in terms of social and human justice . we expected that the response can be tough but not to that extreme.
I personally expected that It will never be that easy to go in the streets asking for women rights in such a patriarchal community , I expected it as one of many and many other passionate men and women for the cause who tried to organize and work on that march while distributing the publications of the demonstration in Tahrir square a couple of days ago .
The mission that was supposed to be easy for me as a man came out to be a hard one .
I still remember the comments I’ve heard that night. A man who was walking around the square with his woman stared at me and said “ democracy for women ? even women ? “ so I told him that the martyrs included men and women .
Another one asked me about the reason for the march and when I told him , he replied “ that’s nonsense , would you love to see women being superior over men ? “ I answered him saying “ no I need another Egypt that will never be there if men keep moving women away “ .
the most superficial comment I got was from a man who said “ they took more rights than what they really deserve “ . 3 comments or even 4 were enough for me to realize that the 8th of march is going to be a day to always be remembered .
today on the march’s day , I woke up early and went directly to the square where I was supposed to meet my friends who are working on the march with me . at about 2 pm we started moving the boxes having publications of different sizes in them to a certain point in the middle garden of the square where the protesters are still camping . we tried as much as we could to keep the boxes closed till we meet the others who are joining the march , however people were so curious to know what’s inside the boxes that we had to give them some of the flyers that included the demands of the march to take a look at them , and that was when the whole crisis started .
suddenly I found myself and my friend involved in a very exhausting and humiliation conversation with many of the people who were in the garden at that time.
First they asked us ( do you believe in what’s written here? Are you the ones who wrote them down ?
Once we said ( yes ) a series of infinite questions and accusations started , and the list was really rich of the accusations like :
- you are a bunch of irreligious people that are fighting against islam
- your demands are against Islamic Shari’aa .
- so do are you calling for woman’s right in getting married to 4 men just like the man ?
- you want to turn Egypt into some western country that doesn’t respect religions .
The funniest question for me was the one passed to us by one of the men who was checking our Identity cards before asking us ( how much did they pay you ? both of you )
So we answered him saying ( what do you mean? ) then he answered back ( how much did they pay you to distract us from our main cause and work for the counter revolution ? )
Later after that conversation we’ve been kicked out of the garden with our papers to the street, however I don’t really blame the people for kicking us out as I believe that there have been many tensions that day and clashes between muslims and Christians , so some how people started to be really paranoid.
Anyways , later we joined the coalition of feminist organizations on the other side of the square , and that was when the real battle started.
Maybe we were not well organized , maybe we made some normal mistakes , and maybe our speech was not clear enough and controversial on the same time , but what I know for sure that we were only about a 100 of men and women holding our banners , repeating our motto “ we want a new constitution that ends discrimination “ while being trapped by not less than 300 men of different ages who are acting in a very aggressive and violent way against us.
Most of them belong to the working class and some of them seemed to be a group of thugs .
In the beginning the violence was only verbal .They were dealing with us like we are a group of prostitutes and pimps that want to deprive them of their religion and promote adultery for example .
They accused us of working for the former first lady’s interests . others of them accused us of being westernized or working for some foreign agendas .
What was really provoking for them is that men were holding the banners too . some of them pointed at me and described me as a fag who should wear a scarf over his head like women because he is a disgrace to the man kind . I could see clearly violent threats to me and the others in their eyes.
Their motto soon developed , they abused the famous motto of the revolution “ people want to bring the regime down “ and turned it into “ people want to bring the women down “ . they even used the Egyptian dialect of the word “ women .
One of them asked us “ why did god send male messengers not a female one ? and then later a group of fundamentalist men with thick beards started shouting saying that “ women shouldn’t speak or shout in public as it’s not allowed in Islam “ which is not true and doesn’t even make any sense.
2 hours later the demonstration was over as it was obvious that they were planning to practice violence against us as protesters.
We thought it was really over before they started to run after many girls in the square harassing them sexually and beating them up . many close friends of mine were being brutally harassed where the young men touched and grabbed their boobs , and even vagina while the armed forces were almost absent except in the end when they started shooting in the air to put an end to the harassment which finally happened.
The story is not finished yet as there are many conclusions and notes that we should be aware of . these notes are :
1- what happened today either we are talking about the sexual harassment or even the motto that have been used against the march have only a manifestation of a terrible fact that we all know by heart , which states that the egyptian community is one of the most masculine and patriarchal communities in the middle east that applies this kind of hierarchy that’s obviously based on sex . most of the men think that because they top women on bed so they should be topping them in reality . they can’t see them away from this sexist and sexual perspective , and that’s the main reason for the sexual harassment. They didn’t harass the women out of sexual desire but out of proving their power in manipulating and humiliating the women bodies. So it was more of a sexual subjugation not a sexual harassment .
2- it’s ridiculous to think that this kind of masculine culture that is growing wider with the help of ignorance which supports even adopting a specific understanding of Islam to support its bases will be gone with Mubarak , actually this culture’s roots are much deeper than we think and to remove them you need time and huge effort which takes us to the next point.
3- for the upcoming marches the feminist movement and organizations in Egypt should start developing a whole new strategy that on one side depends on gaining grassroots and popularity through a convincing and simple discourse that makes every one believe that what women are asking for is nothing more than applying the real meaning of citizenship that we stated earlier, and on the other side we should start working on finding allies that fight for the same rights we are fighting for . Christians for example are also suffering from similar discriminations and a civilian country is what they are asking for . the same goes for intellectuals , liberal and secular groups who are dreaming of the same , however have been silent for so long . if those three groups for example unite , and start showing solidarity things will absolutely be different at least in terms of power dynamics .
4- seriously I don’t believe that wining and moaning are what we should do now simple because I believe that in spite of how terrible , brutal and violent the attack was , in spite of the mistakes that we may have done , we have achieved a lot. At least for the first time in ages women were out defending their cause in the streets not behind the closed doors of the women organizations . they spoke out loud and said it clearly ( WE ARE HERE ) . fighting for freedom was never easy and we know that , as we also know that no one will ever deliver your rights to your home while you are meditating . life is not that pinky and the Egyptian women are not that fragile. Maybe they were not the winners on the first day , but who said that the fight is over , actually we all know it’s going to take years , because it’s more of a political , social and cultural fight .
Yes we’ll get disappointed some times , but as long as we know that our cause is just then it will always be worth fighting for its sake.