A woman’s guide to a safe day in Egypt
Welcome dear, is this your first visit to Egypt?
No problem, it is OK. You just have to know all the rules and laws to stay safe during your trip.
I think that this software is inborn with Egyptian women, whether through education and personal experience, or even the common experiences that girls of different ages pass through.
The harassment dictionary
Let’s start directly with the dictionary of harassment. Do not think for a moment that you are exempt from harassment throughout your stay in Egypt. The only solution for that is not to get off the plane as soon as you arrive, and instead to go back to where you came from. But if you decide not to give up quickly and continue your adventure then let me get started.
‘Don’t cheer up for visiting Egypt, this is a country that is not easy on women.’”
Usually, airports are one of the safest places with regards to reported cases of sexual harassment. But I cannot promise you that at Cairo Airport. Our friend Raghad has an experience that she would like to share with you, on the first day she arrived in Cairo from Saudi Arabia to join university and start a new phase in her life after the end of high school.
“I finished high school in Saudi Arabia and returned to Egypt in order to join university. Once I arrived at the airport, and while I was bending to take my luggage from the baggage carousel someone grabbed my butt. When I turned, I saw that he was an old man, and he was looking at the other side as if nothing happened. I was shocked. I took my luggage and walked quickly. It was my first day in Egypt and the first time ever someone sexually harassed me in my life,” Raghad told Al-Manassa.
“I came with big dreams that I finally became a university student and returned to Egypt. But after that incident, I realized that, given such a welcome, dealing with people will be difficult. I remembered what my close friend said after she visited Egypt for months. She told me: ‘‘Don’t cheer up for visiting Egypt, this is a country that is not easy on women.’”
Of course, I don’t need to warn you that taking taxis in Egypt is an adventure of a special kind. Do you not believe me? Then let my friend Maha* tell you about her experience with a taxi driver.
“I was 17 years old. I took a Heliopolis taxi because I was going to take a course and learn like everyone in my age. It was 4 pm. I was looking from the windows. I had headphones in my ears. When I turned, I saw the driver totally immersed in the act, with his pants unzipped, while looking at me from the mirror.”
“My reaction was that I was very nervous and scared to ask him to let me get off the taxi. I waited until there was a traffic jam in el-Khalifa el-Maamoun street. I opened the door and ran away. I entered the toilet of Hardees restaurant. I collapsed in tears.
It’s okay. It’s not that bad. You can always order a car from a private company like Uber or Careem, although I cannot fully guarantee your safety. There are hundreds of experiences of women who have been harassed by private company drivers.
Let’s hope you have a friend who can save you these steps and drive you to the hotel.
I forgot to ask you about your financial condition. It will definitely have a great influence on your experience in Egypt. If you are someone who can afford to stay in a 5-star hotel, then you probably will not face many problems there. But if you, my dear, are from the middle or working class and decide to go to a 3 or 4-star hotel in Cairo, I regret to inform you that most hotels do not allow room rent for a single lady.
Bassem Halqa, the head of the Tourism Workers Syndicate, told Al-Manassa that there are instructions from the Morality Police (Vice squad) and the Tourism Police to hotel owners not to allow the reservation of a room for a female alone, and these instructions do not apply to men or even groups of women, if they are more than one and despite the absence of a law stating that room renting isn’t allowed for a single woman. But these instructions are due to security measures and concerns regarding extra-marital sex.
Did you arrive at the five-star hotel with a friend’s car?
Well now you’re safe, at least temporarily.
Of course, I understand your desire to visit the city’s landmarks. You did not travel all that way to see Cairo from the balcony. But first you must pass some tests to make sure you are ready to deal with the Egyptian street.
Are you ready to take to the street?
The phenomenon of harassment is not new to Egypt. However, in recent years, the country has witnessed both increasing activism in Egyptian society as well as an increase in recorded cases of sexual violence, even in its intensity. This could indicate a new wave of social violence, for which women pay the price. In Egypt, having a system is very important. That’s why we have the so-called “counter-harassment guide for newcomers.” According to your age, skin colour, social status, the type of your clothes, economic status, the type of harassment (which will most likely happen in the streets of Cairo) can be predicted. Thus you can avoid it, or at least not be surprised by it.
The first question: What is your age?
Oh, you are young. This increases the risk.
Second: What is your skin color?
Why? Of course, to determine the type of threat you will be exposed to. The darker the skin tone, the more vulnerable women are to violence.
The United Nations estimates that about half a million migrants, half of them refugees, live in Cairo. A Reuters report indicated that female refugees were subjected to rape in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. One of whom is 17 years old. She has been a victim of several rapes, until she discovered that she got pregnant.
She is one of the African migrant and refugee women in Cairo who are subjected to daily abuse, human rights organisations described it as an epidemic of sexual violence.
The third question: What is your social status?
Of course, this is a very important question. If you are a mother, you will have to redouble your attention to ensure the safety of your child in addition to your safety. And if you wander around with your husband or partner, you must make sure all the time that you do not have an appearance that attracts attention, and brings you accusations of committing a flagrant act on the public road.
Actions like what? You might be wondering.
To put your head on his shoulder while sitting, or to kiss him or hug him in the street, may God forbid. Yes, I know that he is your husband, but the street does not know that, which will undoubtedly cause you headache, and you may find yourself in the police station trying to justify your heinous act, before making a report of a “blatant act on the public road”, which begins with kissing and extends to include any act that does not correspond to the wishes of citizens on the street at this time.
And if you are pregnant, my dear, I regret to inform you that the risk has doubled. The most beautiful months of your life may turn into the worst experience of sexual harassment.
Expect someone to yell at you with one of these sentences that pregnant women face on the Egyptian street, quoting true testimonies of pregnant women: ‘Now you can’t deny that you have been f*****’, ‘glory to the man who blew you’, ‘did the person who f***** you stay with you or did he run away’, ‘This is the result of playing on beds’, and other phrases that are difficult to write here. Pregnant women hear them every day, not only when they are alone, but also in the company of their children. Mothers are also like other females in Egypt. Just a piece of cheap meat in the eyes of street males.
Fourth question: What type of clothes do you wear?
Do not think for a moment that this question is to prevent harassment, it is only to determine the justification that you will hear after the harassment, if you do not wear the hijab then you are the reason, because your clothes are immodest and arouse men’s desires.
Do you wear a hijab? Your clothes must have been tight or describing your body, as it is not a proper Islamic hijab.
Islamic veil or burqa? Do you wear cosmetics? What about your eyes? Do you wear eyeliners? Do you wear colorful shoes or carry a catchy bag?
It’s okay, even if your features completely disappear under the black clothes, the justification still exists, because being a female is a sufficient reason to provoke instincts and a justification for harassing you, as men cannot control their lust.
The fifth question: what’s your economic situation?
Believe me, I am just trying to reduce the possibilities. I will pray to God that you will never need to take public transport and the metro. They are safe havens for harassers. I also hope that you do not have to walk on your feet in the streets of Egypt a lot, because that will not help you much, and I cannot promise you that your presence inside one of the famous compounds with its high walls will protect you. The prosecution is now investigating an incident of rape that took place inside one of those compounds under the knowledge of security personnel and their cooperation with the accused young man.
I do not advise you to go to one of the classy cafes, as the incident “the girl of On the Run” is still very present in our minds.
You can, of course, go see a movie at the cinema, but you are entirely responsible for the gazes of the ticket man and the usher who gets you to your chair when they know you are entering the cinema on your own, especially if it’s a night party.
Report a harasser
Yes, my lady, I know that you are strong and will not surrender your right and insist on going to the police station to report harassment, which is a right guaranteed to you by the law and the constitution of course, but first let me walk you through the procedures that will take place in this situation.
The first and most difficult task is to guard the harasser or the aggressor. The Egyptian street will do its best to persuade you to turn away from the matter. They will use every possible means to prevent you from going to the police station. They will first try to gain your sympathy by telling you that the harasser was ‘just a stupid kid’ and that ‘you will ruin his future’. Then they will attack you personally: ‘look at what you are wearing!’
If all of these attempts fail, they will try to forcibly save the attacker, which often results in bodily harm to you.
Are you thinking of writing on social media to expose the harasser, or making a video to express your anger?
Have you completely lost your mind? Or have you never heard of Amal Fathy?
On May 9, Amal Fathy posted a video clip on her Facebook page in which she spoke about the extent of the phenomenon of sexual harassment in Egypt, and criticized the government’s failure to provide protection for women. In the early hours of May 11, Egyptian police forces arrested Fathy, along with her husband and their three-year-old child. After being held in pretrial detention for a period of four months, the court sentenced her to two years in prison on charges of broadcasting false news and publishing a video ‘offensive to public modesty.’
A country that fights women
Of course, I could not cover all the difficulties that you will face on your trip, but I hope that I helped you a little in understanding what women are exposed to in Egypt in general and Cairo in particular. In an international opinion poll conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2017, Cairo ranked first as the most dangerous major cities for women In the world.
I see you wondering why women are fighting in Egypt?
From birth, the female is treated as a lack of joy.’ If the newborn was a male, parties and banquets would be held, but if she was a female, she would bring disappointment to the family, and everyone prays for the mother to be blessed with a good boy.
From day one, concepts such as honour and chastity are attached to women’s bodies, and then they are respected or not according to those concepts. Although most of the concept of honour is related to the girl’s virginity and hymen, women’s behaviour and clothing are evidence of that honour, and women’s behaviour and morals are a measure of the degree of violence they deserve.
It cannot be claimed that Egypt is the only country in which harassment of women takes place, but certainly, Egypt is where everything that helps and encourages harm to women is combined.
Women in Egypt are considered the property of the family, and subjugating women to the men of society is the state’s way of imposing its control over these men in the first place before it controls women and their bodies. Violence against women in Egypt is a normal matter. It is even encouraged, while moral and religious justifications are created for it in many cases as long as it does not exceed the authorities of the state. The suffering of women in Egypt comes in different shapes. They are subject to circumcision, underage marriage or forced marriage, harassment, violations resulting from independence attempts, the suffering of the girl with society after independence, and the deprivation of inheritance, legal flaws in incidents of marital rape, honor crimes, and encouragement of beating a wife or daughter under the pretext of recklessness or upbringing.
In conclusion, my dear, you will find hostility in Egypt towards women, up to the point of preventing them from controlling their bodies in every possible way, and this is a fact that cannot be ignored.
Returning to your first question, about how to spend a safe day in Egypt, the answer is: it never worked.