Rationalising sexual harassment in Egypt

Before I came to Egypt I was warned several times to be prepared to face sexual harassment. However the warnings had not prepared me for the reality that I have had to live with, in the past 6 months. Sexual harassment in Egypt is chronic and it has to stop. It does not matter whether you are black, white or everything else in between, just being a woman makes you a victim.

The first one slid his hands onto my lap, groping at my thighs and touching my breasts. Lesson Number one- never sit in the front seat of a taxi in Egypt unless you have other people you know with you in the same car. He was a taxi driver. I had not given him permission to touch me. I walked out of a moving taxi. My body is my sanctuary and if I cannot have total control over it then what am I-A tree that bears fruit but cannot eat of it?

The second one stalked me. I remember he was smartly dressed in khaki pants and a sky blue shirt, but beneath his neat exterior lay a rotten mind and rotten intentions- to harass me because I am a woman.

The third one grabbed my buttocks as I made my way into the subway station. I shouted at him and he ran away. Of course he had to, I was furious to say the least. I used to be feisty but Egypt has turned me into a fierce tigress. That is the only way to deal with a culture that is so pervasive it is almost normal.

The fourth, fifth and hundredth all whispered obscenities in my ears as they passed me by. They whistled and passsed snide remarks as I passed by. They ‘accidentally’ brushed their hands against my breast and my behind as they passed and when I turned my head to ask they raised their hands to say ‘I did not mean to.’ Of course what they all did not mean was to get caught and be embarrassed for it.

The one who drove me to write this story also grabbed my buttocks on the subway on the morning of Tuesday 4 October. A few hours earlier someone had stolen my purse and all the money, bank cards and identity documents in it were gone. I was already upset so I turned and shouted. He showed no remorse. In fact he had an evil sneer on his face, showing satisfaction for having accomplished what he wanted, he had made me upset and so derived power from knowing that he had made me upset. Passersby looked at me as if I was the crazy one. Coupled with the racism I face in this country I retreated from Cairo and took days to find myself again and rebuild my strength. I also took time to reflect on the levels of sexual harassment in Egypt and I tried to rationalise it. I reached one conclusion; there is no rationalising such a terrible culture.

Could it be religion? I ask myself. But what religion condones the degradation of women and their treatment as mere sexual objects? What Deity condones the mal-treatment of half of its creation? If it is about Islam and its demands on how women should dress then I do not understand the patterns of harassment because whether dressed in a Jalabiya (long robe) and Burka (head cover that leaves the eyes out only) or tight skinny jeans, the men still harass you. If it is about Christianity, then these people are reading the wrong Bible because the word of God in Deuteronomy says “Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you.” If they believe that harassing women is good and right in the sight of the Lord, then I cannot stretch my tolerance to accommodate such misogynistic tendencies.

Maybe it is a lack of education but even the educated ones do harass women. Besides one does not need to be educated to know what respect for another human being entails. It should be one of those innate values that transcend religion, culture, education and gender.

Maybe it is a way of redefining their masculinity. I know under the previous regime men were humiliated, suppressed, denied room for expression and personal growth and so they could not provide for their families, they could not voice their opinions out of fear of arrest and detention. So maybe the whole political, socio-economic context emasculated them and made them feel worthless but how does harassing women make you more of a man. Does it not actually make you less of a man and a coward if you spawn your anger and frustrations on a ‘weaker’ sex? As one of my friends Christele Diwouta pointed out when they pull women down because they think it makes them better than us that confirms that they are already beneath us. That makes them cowards. What man calls himself a man when he derives a sense of worth from belittling women. That is pathetic.

I have a right not to be subjected to unwanted sexual advances. I have a right not to be leered at and treated like a sexual object. I have a right not to cower and wonder what a man will say when he passes me by. Real men treat women with respect. Real men protect their womenfolk. Real men do not hiss like snakes to express their interest in women, they engage them in decent conversations. So I declare today to all the men who sexually harass women in Egypt and anywhere else in the world. You are not real men. You are unknown creatures. You are diseased and you need healing. You are cowards!

10 thoughts on “Rationalising sexual harassment in Egypt

  1. Hi MaDube,
    first of all, Iam really sorry for all those accidents u have suffered from in Egypt and I hope next time u won’t face the same situations. I agree with u ,this problem has become so dangerous and unfortunately it grows bigger and bigger,but still there is hope that one day Egypt will manage to put strict rules to ban such crimes.Also i want to add that as u said there is no religion ever permits such an act,and Islam of course has the concept of Gaze Low. Those people do not belong to any real religion and they don’t have any dignity.So please accept our apologize for what u have seen and we hope that u will have a nice time in Egypt next time God willing :)))).

    1. Dear Lamiaa

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I also hope the situation changes and as a women’s rights advocate I strongly feel that no woman should ever have to be subjected to that kind of treatment.

      I hope for the best and that this culture ends soon Insha Allah.

  2. Dear MaDube…i can’t belive that all this happens in my beloved egypt..you shocked me hard..i am very sorry for you…. unfortunately you visited egypt in the time that there was literally NO GOVERNMENT at all and complete absence of police for months…they are punishing us for making a revolution…but we will continue our way to build a free clean egypt…and we will wash away all the filthy legacy of Mobarak’s regime…believe me the only reason for your suffering in egypt is Mobarak’s deadly cocktail of poverty and ignorance and as a muslim i must let you know that islam prohibits even gazing at women…hope that you visit egypt soon when the revolution wins…it will be more beautiful than you can ever imagine…do you believe that when millions of egyptian men and women crowded and occupied tahrir square, no single harrasment was reported? 🙂 🙂

    1. Dear Amr

      Yes you are right, the absence of the police on the streets and the resulting vacuum in the maintenance of peace and order soon after Mubarak stepped down largely contributed to the magnitude of the problem.I do believe in Tahrir there was a certain level of respect that you do not see on the ordinary street, with the exception of course of the two incidents of rape that occured.I even wrote an article acknowledging the different atmosphere that was in Tahrir Square. You can read it here

    1. Thank you Mohamed. I know these people’s behavior is not in any way a reflection of what all Egyptians are like. There are great people in your country just as there are some terrible people in mine. I will visit Egypt again as I have friends there and I do hope something is done to end this soon.

  3. In the name of all Egyptian people, I apology to you and am sorry for this bad experience however i assure you that not all of us are these monsters its just like you said the political and socio-economic context which made this, I am sorry!.

    1. Thank you Walid. I believe you, not all Egyptian men are like these terrible people. I met lots of great Egyptian men. I have several Egyptian male friends too. One of them Alaa Abd El Fattah is a very close friend of mine and he is a darling, a perfect gentleman and wonderful to the women in his life. It was actually him and his dear wife Manal who encouraged me to visit Egypt and gave me warnings about the harassment before my visit. I knew the harassment was there but the reality was more than the expectation. I feel for Egyptian women and I really hope this terrible habit stops soon and women get the protection they deserve.

  4. Dear madubesbrainpot,

    I read your article and felt sad for what it has become my beloved Egypt. I believe every word you have written and I fully understand your confusion, but I want to tell you that what you have seen in Egypt caused by several factors, one of them is high unemployment rate among young people, delayed age of marriage, the spread of moral corruption and of course the lack of public awareness and security. Now in Egypt the offender does not fear punishment, and all of these reasons is the result of a corrupt system that controlled, and still control, Egypt for more than 30 years. There is no divine religion permits or encourages harassment. as you know, all religions have same laws and fundamental constants such as the prohibition of adultery, the prohibition of murder and the necessity of seeking to acquire the human moral, good, etc.
    What you have seen in Egypt is a distorted picture of the people who was a great day. these people can not find now the most basic needs to live a human life. Food and housing are very expensive, no employment, no marriage.
    From the heart of Egyptian woman please Accept my apologies for what you had confronted in Egypt.

    1. Thank you Noha for your comforting words.

      Indeed it is true, the vacuum in policing has resulted in all kinds of criminals taking advantage of the situation and doing all sorts of terrible things, including sexual harassment. I have also seen how people are frustrated at the rate at which change is happening, I also saw how SCAF did not make things any better and I understand all the frustrations. Yes these factors may explain why men behave the way they do but it still does not excuse how women are treated.

      I feel for Egyptian women because in them I see my sisters, my friends, mothers and aunts. Things like this should not be happening and I hope in some way sexual harassment is addressed, those who commit this crime should face the full wrath of the law and face the consequences for their actions.

      In solidarity with all Egyptian women,


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