Lately I received a lot of messages where people ask me about somethings that are happening here in Egypt. For this reason, and because some stories are truly alarming, and if they are read from outside can discourage anyone in their plans to visit this country, I have decided to answer some questions and give my views on the subject. My opinion seems to matter so let’s stop spinning and start.
Sexual abuse in Tahrir Square and other places
So as you can read, It happened in Tahrir Square in the evening and daylight. The goal seems to be foreign women (who are looking to be or handheld a camera) those who inserted in the middle of the crow, where the majority are men, are victims of touching, hitting, hair pulling… they are stripped of their clothes and object of all sorts of abuse. No need to go into detail to imagine what it feels like. Besides the anger and helplessness because: “How a woman stands before a dozen men? Which cries for help will be heard in the midst of a mob of men above you?” With tears in the eyes I have read the case of a woman in the middle of this horrendous situation she screamed “Salam! Salam” (Peace! Peace!) And in the crowd a man mockingly replied, “Ma ‘salama” Which means something like “See ya! ” Or “Goodbye!”
I find it confusing … It’s not that I don’t believe in these testimonies, but I find it hard to assimilate because many times I stood in the middle of Tahrir Square, and not just any day, but in the revolution and when Mubarak resigned…I thank God nothing ever happened to me, also I know many foreign who resided here or those who currently reside in Cairo, who were in Tahrir and they can tell the story… I say this not because I want to demonstrate that “Nothing happened to me” but because I read lately on various blogs, news or social networks endless opinions and unfortunately most are negative, so I’d love it if someone didn’t experienced any abuse or had no major problems come and tell their experience … Why it’s easier to find negative reviews? What about the positive? I know that there are many…
The verbal and physical abuse towards women somehow have increased. Currently there is a group that seeks to defend women and prevent abuse in Tahrir, although we all hope that many more people will join them to give an end to these events.
And the men who grope women are punished by civilians furious to this baseness.
The point is that since I arrived here similar things happened always but never in the extent that they are happening now.
Egyptian men and foreign women
Why Egyptian men tend to do these things? I am forced to do the following references: Egypt is a Muslim country mostly and it’s very conservative society. Men and women have no physical contact unless they are family or married. Women are mostly covered, using Hegab or niqab, so for men is not common to see women exposed… A bare shoulder or an arm can represent anyone’s fantasy… not to mention the rubbing of the skin or a kiss. These things are normal in other countries, not here.
There is one fact that is true and no one will dare to deny: Many foreign women come to visit, either festivals or touring. During her stay she may know some Egyptian man and comes a “story”… a “summer’s love story” or whatever you call it. The foreigner who has another mentality, another culture and idiosyncrasy live freely this story and in this story will happen whatever has to happen. Who can blame her? Egyptians are men really attractive and they have the charm of the Arab man, so things just happen.
For the egyptian men is almost impossible to experience these things with an Egyptian woman who should be saved and untouched for marriage, for which there are also many conditions… Not all men have enough money to get married, the sentence “we got married and after we will see” is not applicable here… Here the man must to show to his fiancee’s family what he has to offer, if they are satisfied he can marry the girl, but if no…no.
So he can have fun with a foreigner girl who does not require neither a house nor gold to give “everything”. What about these stories? These stories circulate and generate the belief that foreigners are willing to do anything and they don’t care, so it is not surprising that an Egyptian man try to talk with them to see where things go.
I have witnessed the daring of many sellers in Khan el Khalili those who, at the request of a better price by the foreign tells them “you will get the best price of you give me a kiss”… A kiss on the cheek that for her is worthless to the seller is something else.
The image of the dancer
Many people know what it means to be “a dancer” here in Egypt: “It is a disgrace to a family if one of their women is a dancer”. The woman who is exposed in public it’s a loose woman of ill repute who has no shame and certainly after the show she is going anywhere with anyone to do anything. Before coming to Cairo for the first time I didn’t know this and when I discovered what it was the real look and the concept that people have of the dancer disappointed me a lot and at the time that I had the opportunity to stay and work I did this question to myself: “I will be able to live with this?” I decided that yes. Perhaps with the naive idea that I was going to change their way of thinking, that I was going to show dance as art… and how beautiful it is. The truth it is that over time this idea vanished from my head because no one and nothing is going to change what the majority of Egyptians believe about the dancer… However many people know to enjoy a show and come to take pictures and congratulate me with words really beautiful after each performing.
Last week a foreigner dancer was evicted from her apartment because the owner realized what was her real occupation. What is striking about this case was that she realized after six years… of coming and going with makeup, with sticks… I smell the influence of the new government and the pressure of neighbors.
The sad thing is it was not the only case since this episode was repeated with other foreign dancers. This makes me think and makes me very clear that I can be the next. I understand that my neighbors are not fools and that somehow they imagine “what” I do in my life but nothing guarantees that other residents of the building will not be disturbed by the presence of a dancer and finally ask me to leave my apartment.
For me having to hide my occupation, that is my life and my passion, and I am also proud to be what I am, is very painful I can not deny this, but it was my decision, I have no regrets, I know I have to adapt myself.
Although neither history nor any beliefs are valid to justify abuse of women is very convenient that before visiting any country people be aware “where they are stepping on” and take the necessary precautions to avoid bad times:
_Many tourists are surprised by women wearing niqab (those that reveal only their eyes) and men who dress in robes… Or anyone with native characteristics. You need to ask before photographing them, some people tend to get very angry if you don’t ask them but if you ask them usually they say yes and pose very happy.
_When tou are greeting someone is enough a handshake avoiding any physical contact, especially if you don’t know the person or if they are being introduced.
_When you walk down the street is better to avoid eye contact with men, and if it is inevitable try not to stare at someone or a group, because here the looks usually indicate interest and sometimes provocation.
_Be especially careful about dressing. Needless cover the head but you should avoid deep cleavage shirt showing to much, bare shoulders, short skirts and too much makeup on the street. If needed a gala dress or short dress is absolutely advisable to go and return by taxi or any other vehicle that must be trusted by the hotel or some reference.
_I would say obviously avoid Tahrir Square and its surroundings. But to be realistic I say avoid any kind of concentration or crowd.
_And of course if you are dancer as much as possible, try not to make it apparent. Dancing on the public streets is definitely not an option. I understand that for a woman dedicated to oriental dance make a step on Egyptian soil it is a great joy, but don’t show it publicly.
_ Summing up a bit: “When in Rome, do as the Romans”.
* Finally, if despite having taken all the precautions you are in any uncomfortable situation remain to be calm and use firm tone.
If you react don’t show that you are afraid (if you are).
In all this time of course It happened some things to me. Thank God none serious, but definitely made me earn experience. The act of walking through life without cover myself from head to foot gives some men the false belief that I am available for comments, compliments or insults …
Violence takes many forms. No need to slap someone for that to be considered “violence” …
A man chasing a woman down the street as if he is the cat and she is the mouse it is of “little man”, act of a coward… especially coming from men who believe that women are “defenseless creatures”. That is violence.
Groping, insulting a woman or inciting others to do so. That is violence.
A man cornering a woman in a subway car or in a bus taking advantage of the tumult. That is violence.
To evict a woman because she is dedicated to art (either singing, dancing or other form of it). That is violence.
A religious shouts you down the street when he sees you because you are not covered. That is violence.
Bad press and to speack ill about a place without giving the chance to other people to come and live the experience. That is violence.
I’m not in favor of violence of course, but much less in favor of silence when it happens.
Beyond all the recommendations I made earlier all I can say is that Egypt is a wonderful place, worthy of being visited. I’m not the only one who thinks this… I’m not the only one who speaks with a deep love about Egypt. I am not the only one who left her country and came here and then decide to stay. This country is rearming, has a lot to do… there are wounds to heal after the revolution… I believe, like many foreigners who live here, in an Egyptian rebirth where everything will blooms. Inshallah, time will tell…