Tag Archives: Cairo

On Being Human

“Fuck you, asshole!” I yelled.

Easily three times my size, “hey, pretty thing” was helping someone carry a table down Fredrick Douglass in Harlem. My words bounced off his back.

His friend, who was facing me, and carrying the opposite end of the table from my  “admirer,” looked up, surprised.

Seeing only a cloud of red instead of the Dunkin Donuts pumpkin munchkins I had been fantasizing about and on my way to get, the words furiously kept pouring out.

“If you want to say something, why don’t you say it to my face, instead of just walking past like a coward.”

A few weeks earlier, the same explosion of fury against “hey, gorgeous,” who had sidled past me, muttering, while turning into the corner store, had at least elicited a silent apology of upraised, “I surrender” hands when I stopped and loudly vented.

I think people turned and stared. I’m not sure. I lost sight of everything else around me.

I’ve done my time in Cairo, where I lived before moving to New York. An April UN report said that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt have experienced sexual harassment.

New York was supposed to be a respite.

I am not an angry person. Ever. Ok, almost ever. How quickly the rage engulfs me, transforms me, is astonishing.

In Cairo, I tried to knock over the motorcycle of two “pssssst, pssssssssst, ya asl” as they slowly drove past me in rush hour traffic.

Through the city’s winding, ritzy neighborhood of Zamalek, I chased the “ass-grabber,” no older then fifteen, down ten blocks yelling, “I hope God brings destruction to your home.” (It doesn’t sound as bad in Arabic.)

From a movie camera perspective, the two Cairo incidents and my reaction were probably comical.

But what would I have done had I actually caught the ass-grabber?

Or if “hey, pretty thing” had actually turned around and yelled back at me?

In Cairo, I honestly have no idea. I might have tried to chastise or have a conversation, but every time I’ve attempted that it has been taken as a flirtation or met with mocking laughter. I think the trick is to be calm and distant, instead of livid.

Except the problem is that I’m so fucking angry.

In New York, I might have engaged.

Maybe.

Photographer Hannah Price did a series called City of Brotherly Love, taking portraits of men in Philadelphia who had harassed her minutes earlier.

They are compelling, evocative pictures.

The Philadelphia neighborhood is clearly low-income. Most of the men are black. Their faces show the wear of a hard life.

This is all somewhat true of where I live in Harlem. It’s “gentrifying” – i.e. kicking out the long-time residents for yuppies and students, most of whom come from privilege – like me.

Similarly, in Cairo, Julia Simon, a young American radio journalist, spontaneously stopped and had a conversation with the guy who harassed her as she walked by  – probably a young kid on the side of the street, peddling or loitering, with not much else to do.

The unemployment rate among young men in Egypt is 32 percent. Underemployment is just as bad, if not worse.

Both of these women have sympathy, or at least curiosity, about their harassers, whereas in that moment of being harassed, I have none.

I know that there are justifications and histories and contexts and sociologies and pathologies that explain why this happens. There are compelling reasons to engage these men with understanding and not hostility.

But in that moment, when you stop believing I’m human, I also stop believing you’re human.

Advertisements

The Price of Egypt’s Integrity

These days of chaotic, bloody brutality are a time for mourning, as the toll continues to rise for those killed by the Egyptian security force’s operation to break up pro–Mohammed Morsi sit-ins as well as from retaliatory attacks. There have been too many gruesome days in Egypt since the 2011 revolution, but never have the prospects for recovering from the damage seemed so bleak. At the moment, it is not unreasonable to fear Egypt backsliding to a state worse than that of Hosni Mubarak’s.

In the past two and a half years, an unleashed Egypt has chanted, “The people demand the downfall of the regime,” … and then the military … and then the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, graffiti on a grimy wall in Cairo simply reads, “Down with the whole world.”

It is almost impossible to describe the sheer intensity and scale of the Aug. 14 security force crackdown on the Nahda and Rabia al-Adawiya camps, where supporters of the deposed president had gathered for 41 days following the July 3 military coup. Bulldozers, snipers, assault weapons, tear gas, pellets and helicopters overhead were all reported at the scene.

Aerial images from that evening on Egyptian state television showed much of Rabia, sometimes described as a small city, up in flames. A number of journalists compared the scene to a war zone. What occurred there is far from the “gradual dispersal” of protesters designed to minimize carnage that the interim government had promised in the preceding days. Rather, the “dispersal” was an all-out attack. Egyptian human rights groups condemned the violence in a statement titled to aptly summarize the situation: “Non-peaceful assembly does not justify collective punishment.”

While talk of breaking up the protests had been building for days, marches by Brotherhood supporters to government ministries the day before the crackdown may have spurred the military to action. Reuters reported that outside the Interior Ministry, residents had thrown stones and bottles at the pro-Morsi marchers and called them “terrorists” as police warded the demonstrators off with tear gas.

Cairo and 13 other cities across the country are now under emergency law and curfew. Police have threatened to arrest anyone out after 7:00 pm, leaving Cairo, a city that normally settles after 3:00 am, eerily quiet.

There is no independently verified death toll. For now, Egyptian authorities report 638 dead and more than 4,000 injured, while the Brotherhood tallies their dead at some 2,200. Decaying bodies fill makeshift hospitals and morgues where grieving families struggle to identify their dead.  Many of the bodies have been burned under unclear circumstances still being pieced together.

Churches across the country are under retaliatory attack by reportedly pro-Morsi supporters. The Interior Ministry said that at least seven churches had been vandalized or torched by suspected Islamists on Aug. 14, while unofficial reports cite more than fifty churches and related institutions attacked. Two deaths have been reported related to sectarian violence.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice-president for foreign affairs and liberal veneer on the interim government, resigned the day of the crackdowns, declaring that he could “not bear the responsibility of a single drop of blood … especially with my faith that we could have avoided it.”

Neither the Brotherhood’s leadership, which called on its supporters to join the sit-in as the onslaught began, nor the military leadership supported by the supposedly liberal National Salvation Front and Tamarrod, the youth movement that sparked the June 30 protests that led to Morsi’s overthrow, share ElBaradei’s sense of guilt. Bloodthirsty, they are calling on their supporters to “resist” each other. The Brotherhood declared Friday, Aug. 16, “A Day of Rage” against the military’s violence across the country.

The National Salvation Front released a statement on Aug. 15 “saluting the police and military forces … imposing their will of complete victory.” Appearing as the military’s puppet, Tamarrod called for its supporters to take to the streets on Aug. 16 and stand up to the Brotherhood by forming “neighborhood watch committees,” a senseless call that if heeded will likely provoke some of the bloodiest street battles Cairo has ever seen.

Egyptians’ deep-rooted, insidious hatreds and prejudices have been released in a fury as the institutions of the deep state and the Brotherhood, both cheered on by popular support, play a deadly zero-sum game. After the violence of the crackdown, the military has made clear that only one side will emerge intact from this struggle, which is unlikely to end soon. A severely wounded beast now clearly fighting for its survival, the Brotherhood will in the coming days put up staunch resistance. On the day of the crackdown, Brotherhood supporters attacked state institutions and churches in Upper Egypt and the Delta.

In cries that have become heartbreakingly familiar, a woman at the Rabia al-Adawiya sit-in wailed, as fighting raged around her, “Are we not Muslim! Are we not Egyptian!” That is what demonstrators gathered against Morsi’s November 2012 constitutional decree pleaded to their Brotherhood attackers in front of the Ittihadiya presidential palace.

With ordinary political contests transformed into existential battles, the cycle of demonizing those with differing political views has ripped Egypt apart. “Thug,” “terrorist,” “kafir” (non-believer) are loosely thrown around by the Brotherhood and their opponents in the sludge of hatred. The inherently competitive nature of electoral politics, which at its basest thrives on exploiting divisive fissures, has helped entrench such hyped-up prejudices against the “other” in Egypt.

During the December 2012 constitutional referendum, Islamists equated saying “yes to the constitution” as saying “yes to Islam,” asserting the dominance of their religious interpretation. This, along with the Brotherhood’s majoritarian politics at a time when social and political trust in a shaken Egypt was weak, fueled the fears that it was seeking to build an Islamic state. While its history, ideology and belligerence to compromise worked against the organization, the mistakes made by its members in government were not far beyond the usual trials and errors of emerging democracies.

In the more hopeful yet still repressive days of the 2011 parliamentary elections, when the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces crushed anti-military protests, many non-Islamists voted for the Muslim Brotherhood with cautious optimism. Confident in Egypt’s ability to define its own path on its own terms as a nascent democracy, they asserted that Egyptians must make their own choice in the country’s first free and fair elections.

As the world warily watched, a middle-aged man in a worn brown galabiya, waiting to vote, declared, “If we make the wrong choice, we’ll fix it.”

The price for “fixing” the Brotherhood’s election may prove perilous and regressive for Egypt. While many Egyptians see this as a struggle between the “integrity of the state” and the Brotherhood, it is worth remembering that the state they are now seeking to preserve is the same one that the 2011 revolution sought to bring down in favor of democratic, civilian rule based on the rights, freedoms and dignity of all of Egypt’s citizens.

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on August 16, 2013. It was revised for style on September 19, 2013.

Photo credit: Marcia Qualey

Muslim Brotherhood Missing From Egypt’s Road Map

CAIRO — Against a background of entrenched resistance from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and disagreement within the opposition, the military is implementing its “road map.” Meanwhile, pro and anti-“coupvolution” demonstrators are holding their ground. Crowds continue to flock to Rabaa El Adaweya mosque and Cairo University, where protesters call for the deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s reinstatement on the basis that he is the constitutionally legitimate president of Egypt. In the Brotherhood’s preferred framing of political fights, Morsi’s removal is being described as an attack on Islam.

There is anticipation that the beginning of Ramadan on July 10 will only embolden Brotherhood supporters. While the mood at the Brotherhood’s protests is one of preparedness for battle, Tahrir continues to celebrate with nightly displays of fireworks and military airplanes overhead.

Cairo’s streets in the past few days have vacillated between a return to normalcy and unusual quiet. While both sides still use the streets as a standoff to determine which side is louder and bigger, the military has appointed the prime minister and vice president, laid out a constitutional declaration and set a timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections.

After the Salafist Nour Party — which backed the downfall of Morsi — refused two earlier propositions for the prime minister, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the June 30 coalition spokesman and head of the Dostour Party, they finally agreed to former finance minister and liberal economist Hazem el-Biblawi as prime minister, who was appointed on July 9.

ElBaradei will now be the “vice-president of foreign affairs.” The current foreign minister, as well as the ministers of interior and defense, will all retain their positions. A divisive political figure, it is apparent that ElBaradei’s appointment is targeted at the West. His experience as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as his established position as a secular liberal, will give the West — still edgy with Morsi’s removal — a familiar face and ideology to deal with in the interim government. Moreover, as US aid to Egypt remains uncertain in the face of whether or not the military’s intervention was a coup, ElBaradei as the icon of Egyptian liberalism and the declared election timetable may help convince the US government of Egypt’s commitment to liberal, democratic values moving forward.

In Egypt, while many liberal progressives are enthusiastic about ElBaradei’s appointment, many moderate Egyptians see him as a weak personality who showed up at the last minute to take power. Among the Islamists, he is detested for his secular stance on religion, and he has done little to convince the general public that secularism does not mean the removal of Islam from the Egyptian identity.

For Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, adjunct professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, who spoke on the phone to Al-Monitor on July 7, ElBaradei’s participation in the interim government is crucial in facilitating the division between religion and politics, a combination he views as dangerous.

Ironically, in appeasing the Salafists, the military’s constitutional declaration, issued around midnight on July 9, keeps the reference to the principles of Islamic Sharia as the basis of the state and main sources of legislation — one of the main articles the liberal opposition vehemently opposed during the 2012 drafting process. Furthermore, freedom of worship stays limited to the three monotheistic religions as in the 2012 constitution, whereas the 1971 constitution protected freedom of belief.

A once fickle ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in competition over a similar base, the Nour Party — which has been straddling the fence over Morsi’s removal — is now reaping its rewards. Acknowledging the popular, peaceful nature of the June 30 protests and critical of the Brotherhood’s political domination, it also expressed support for the constitution and legitimacy of Morsi’s presidency. However, it ensured the party’s role in the post-June 30 order by agreeing to participate in Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s meeting prior to the expiration of Morsi’s 48-hour ultimatum. Playing both sides, they also assured their Islamist constituency that they had nothing to do with Morsi’s overthrow.

As the now dominant Islamist group willing to engage in the political process, the Nour Party — whose beliefs are more hard-line than the Brotherhood — have played a prominent role in the shaping of the interim government and constitutional declaration. While their engagement is important to prevent the complete alienation of the country’s Islamists, they will prove an obstacle to the liberal vision for the new state.

However, navigating the transition and maintaining that they did not betray their brothers in Islam is proving increasingly difficult with their followers. After the July 8 clashes between the army and Brotherhood supporters, which left 51 dead and 400 injured, the Nour Party announced that it was suspending cooperation with the interim government. Worried about its members who were joining the Brotherhood’s protests, it also proposed an alternative road map on the grounds the military’s road map had increased violence and suppression.

Newly appointed Biblawi stated that he will include the Brotherhood and the Nour Party in the formation of a cabinet, but the Brotherhood unsurprisingly rejected the offer to join the “revolution cabinet.” For them, any solution begins with the reinstatement of Morsi, as they do not even acknowledge the legitimacy of the new interim government.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center — speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype on July 6 — said, “The Brotherhood is not going to pre-emptively give up their legitimacy claim because in some ways that is the best bargaining chip they have with the new government.”

In the long run, Hamid believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood leadership decides to cut its losses in a couple of weeks and get back into the system, they will need clear guarantees about their participation, including whether they could appoint a prime minister should they win a plurality in the elections.

Sayyid, however, thinks that the interim government will need to deal with the all-encompassing nature of the Muslim Brotherhood organization before deciding on their return to politics. “The Brotherhood as an association should be subject to the rule of law as a nongovernmental organization, but Egyptian law forbids NGOs from being involved in politics.”

How the interim government will handle the Brotherhood’s reintegration into the political process is one of many questions that remains to be answered, but meanwhile, the military continues to plow ahead with its road map amid increasing political influence by the Salafists.

This piece was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on July 10, 2013. 

Egypt’s Gas Shortage Fuels June 30 Protests

CAIRO — By Wednesday afternoon, June 26, traffic in Cairo went from a gridlock of cars jammed around gas stations to eerily empty as the gas shortage discouraged drivers from going out. By Thursday, traffic jams were again at their worst, with people complaining of commutes taking hours. Worried about escalating tensions with the gas shortage hitting the country before protests planned for June 30, many offices have been letting their employees stay home in preceding days.

Despite the long lines and Tarek el-Barkatawy, head of the Egyptian Gas and Petroleum Company, acknowledging a gas shortage at a press conference earlier in the week, Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Sherif Hadarra denied any shortage on June 26. While Hadarra blamed the long lines at gas stations on false rumors that the government intends to halt the supply of gas products, el-Barkatawy reported that the current rate of gas consumption is exceeding normal levels by 20 to 30%.

Saad Abdel Magid, a Cairo taxi driver, also pointed to Egypt’s diminishing foreign reserves, which are a major factor underlying many of the nation’s problems. “The country doesn’t have money, so the country doesn’t have gas,” he said while staring in frustration at a downtown traffic jam of cars haphazardly lined up near a gas station.

In a report issued June 25, the office of the president blamed the lack of fuel on the lack of foreign currency, but also cited smuggling and the black market for the shortage.

Oil-rich Iraq and Libya agreed to deals in March 2013 to supply oil to help ease Egypt’s fuel shortages, but they both fell through in June. Indicative of a lack of confidence in Egypt’s economy, the talks ended when Iraq rejected a guarantee by the Egyptian Central Bank for the $1.2 billion value of the oil.

For Manar el-Barrawy, a private language instructor who depends on her car to reach her students, the lack of financial reserves, smuggling, hoarding all seem like plausible reasons for the gas shortage. She also thinks that the government’s ineptitude in monitoring fuel supplies and acting accordingly has a lot to do with the current problem. She told Al-Monitor, “Nothing is really clear.”

Of concern to her is that the current shortage represents the government’s continued failure to find a solution to the gas shortages. In the two years since the revolution, Egypt has faced repeated fuel crises as the economy has deteriorated.

Regardless of the reasons, the consequences are the same: People line up for hours in front of gas stations and tensions run high. Amira Erfan, who works at an educational non-profit, joked to Al-Monitor, “People bring their water and sandwiches and charge their phones and laptops before coming to the gas station.”

Speaking by phone as she waited in line to get gas, Erfan said that her average wait time is two hours. The car behind her, already out of gas, was pushed forward as the line painstakingly progressed. It’s “everyone’s worst nightmare,” she commented.

Long lines, high temperatures and edginess about what the next few days will bring are exacerbating Egyptians’ frustrations. Ahram Gate reported that a student waiting at a gas station in Cairo was killed by a stray bullet fired during a dispute between two drivers over whose turn it was at the pump.

The latest gas crisis falls prior to the highly anticipated June 30 protests called by the Tamarrud movement demanding that Morsi step down for his failure to achieve any of the revolution’s goals. The demonstrators plan to march to the presidential palace to present their demands to Morsi on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. Pro-Morsi groups have called for counterdemonstrations on June 28 and held a similar rally on June 21.

While some believe that the gas shortage may encourage more people to go into the streets, others fear that people will instead blame the shortage on the protests. According to Erfan, the gas crisis is “effective in making people angry.” She believes that the turnout on June 30 will be higher than expected because the gas crisis will incline previously reticent citizens toward protesting. While Erfan does not plan to participate in the protests, she acknowledged, “If we suffer this crisis for a few days, and then get rid of Morsi, I’m happy with this.”

El-Shaarawy, who supports the June 30 protests, also had concerns about them. “It’s possible that people will blame the June 30 protests for the current crisis. Always people change their minds and accuse the protests.”

This particularly concerns her because, she said, “Finally, the people who are of Islamist leanings are beginning to change their minds and see that Morsi isn’t the best option for the country, but now, because of the gas crisis, they might go back.”

In a major speech lasting more than two hours on June 26, Morsi again failed to offer satisfactory solutions to the economic and political crises currently facing the country. Addressing the fuel crisis, he began by telling Egyptians that he has seen the gas lines himself and would like to wait with them. He also personally apologized for the shortage and expounded on a new smart card system to help prevent smuggling by suppliers and threatened to withdraw the licenses of gas stations found to be hoarding.

Regarding the political crisis, he promised a national reconciliation committee comprised of political parties, religious institutions and revolutionary forces tasked with overseeing a national dialogue. While he has proposed the same approach many times in the past, it has yet to achieve success and resolve the differences between the political factions.

Morsi repeatedly warned Egyptians to beware of foloul, remnants of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s regime, and of political opportunists capitalizing on the revolution for their own benefit.

For many Egyptians, their hopes and worries are now pinned on June 30. For Mohamed Mostafa, a Cairo taxi driver, the dwindling supply of basic commodities and soaring prices is enough to catalyze change. He told Al-Monitor, “All people will descend on the streets on June 30 against Morsi — I’m one of the them — and we will find a solution.”

The most obvious solution to many Egyptians is another takeover by the military, which governed the country after the revolution from February 2011 until June 2012. While not everyone is enthusiastic about that option, a skeptical Efran observed, “There is nobody else to take the lead.”

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on June 27, 2013.

Muslim Brotherhood Demands Judicial Purge in Egypt

CAIRO — Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered outside of the High Court in Cairo on Friday to protest against the judiciary. They chanted, “the people want the purging of the judiciary,” and held signs asking for the “retribution of the martyrs.”

On a wall outside the High Court hung a banner outlining protesters’ demands: immediate change of the current judicial law, removal of the justice minister, prosecution of both the head of the Judge’s Club and the former chief prosecutor, and the holding of revolutionary tribunals.

The protest comes in light of South Cairo Criminal Court’s ruling earlier in the week acquitting deposed president Hosni Mubarak of charges of killing protesters during the revolution, although a retrial is scheduled for May 11. He remains in jail on corruption charges. The decision, as well as Mubarak’s visibly improved health and cheerful spirits on Monday, frustrated many Egyptians with the continued delay of justice against the previous regime.

In a jibe at the legal system, one protester Friday held a sign portraying a man symbolizing the judiciary holding a gun to the back of an angel-winged martyr that sarcastically read: “Urgent: martyrs now being arrested on false proclamations and without reason.”

For many of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters, the Mubarak decision is further evidence of a judiciary tainted by “felool,” or remnants of the Mubarak regime. As flyers bearing the faces of the revolution’s martyrs were passed out, protester Youssef Ahmed said, “We are angry because justice has not been done for the martyrs. The current system is just like before, nothing has changed.”

Nagwa Ahmed, a staunch Brotherhood supporter attending the protests, told Al-Monitor, “The ruling for Mubarak is a ruling against the revolution. The media and the judges have been fighting the Egyptian people since after the revolution. The judges need to change for the sake of the revolution.”

However, Jason Brownlee, associate professor of government and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Texas in Austin, viewed the timing of the anti-judiciary protests as a move to “piggyback the strategic move of Ikhwanizing the judiciary on the popular cause of anti-Mubarakism.” He considered the protests a cover for the Brotherhood’s attempt to push their judicial authority law through the Shura Council. The proposed law would remove many senior-level judges and allow the Brotherhood greater power over the judiciary.

“The judiciary is now effectively the only non-Islamized institution except for the military, but they’re basically supporting the Brotherhood and [President Mohammed] Morsi at this point. In terms of institutions, it’s only the judiciary who provides a counterweight to Morsi’s presidency.”

The proposed judicial authority law comes after ongoing disputes between the ruling Muslim Brotherhood and the judiciary since the Supreme Constitutional Court’s (SCC) decision to dissolve the Islamist-dominated People’s Assembly in June 2012. Both sides, perceived to be at odds over their Islamist and liberal agendas, view each other as seeking to undermine the other’s authority and vision for the country.

Divisions between Morsi and the judiciary peaked in November 2012 after Morsi issued a constitutional declaration immunizing the Constituent Assembly (responsible for drafting the new constitution) and the Shura Council (currently functioning as the country’s only legislative body) from constitutional review. Many viewed this as a pre-emptive move by Morsi against an anticipated SCC decision ruling both bodies unconstitutional and halting work on the new draft constitution. The opposition condemned this as blatant power grab by Morsi and an attack on the judiciary’s autonomy that resulted in days of protests and bloody clashes between opposition and Brotherhood supporters.

The struggle for authority between the judiciary and government continues to lead the country down a tumultuous path. In April, an administrative court declared the election law unconstitutional and voided Morsi’s call for parliamentary elections in April. An appeals court also ordered the reinstatement of the prosecutor general removed by Morsi in November, ruling that the appointment of the current prosecutor general, who has so far toed the Brotherhood’s line, was illegal.

In the eyes of Suhair Abdel Hafez, who attended the protest with her daughter, these moves by the judiciary are proof of its bias. “The judges are supposed to be independent, but they are not. Their decisions are political. We want transparency in the justice system.”

Brownlee questioned this accusation against the judiciary’s independence. Acknowledging that there is need for reform, he pointed out that the judiciary was one of the few institutions that exposed electoral fraud against the Brotherhood under the Mubarak era.

“There’s this great irony in the way that the Brotherhood are turning on people who have been trying to stand up for more pluralism, more transparency, and just general accountability of whoever is in power.”

The proposed judicial authority law would change the retirement age of judges from 70 to 60, which would result in the removal of almost 3,500 judges, or one-third of the judiciary. Brownlee described the law as taking a “hatchet” instead of a “scalpel” to judicial reform.

Even Saeed, who protested against the judiciary, said not all judges are corrupt. She believes that one-third of the judges are corrupt, while two-thirds are still honorable. Fellow protestor Hafez disagreed, and said that at least 70 percent of the judiciary is corrupt.

Brownlee, however, said, “If there was a genuine interest in reforming the judiciary instead of a political monopoly, why not wait until after elections when there is a People’s Assembly with a fresh democratic mandate and then do the judicial reforms.”

On the fringes of the protest, Fawad Mohamed spoke to pedestrians about the need for a complete change of the judiciary. Reflecting the pessimism of many Egyptians with the current political situation, he told Al-Monitor, “A country without a judiciary is not a country at all.”

Anti-judiciary protesters also used the gathering to show their support for Morsi with chants of the president’s name. According to Saeed, “Morsi is a just and fair ruler. God willing, we will make him succeed in the next election also.”

The protest, which was peaceful throughout the day, ended in clashes when Brotherhood opponents descended on the High Court.  Egyptian state-owned news agency Ahram Online confirmed 87 injured from stone throwing and occasional gunfire. Central security forces fired tear gas canisters and birdshot into the crowd in hopes of ending clashes, but fighting continued late into Friday night. On Saturday, Ahram Online reported that police arrested 39 people in connection with the High Court violence.

Citing pressure on him to step down from both the opposition and Brotherhood supporters, Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki submitted his official resignation letter today. He disagreed with the President’s decision to change the prosecutor general in November, and most recently denounced the Brotherhood’s proposed judicial authority law.

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on April 21, 2013.

The Fight for Space

Walking the streets of Cairo, I can’t stop being grateful that I’m not a stunning beauty, nor a strikingly obvious foreigner. It’s strange to me that Cairo evoked this gut response to beauty, but it did. It can be hard enough to manage here as a female. Being normal looking evokes enough unwanted attention that standing out in anyway must be a nightmare.

Depending on the time of day, location, and context, and sometimes irrespective of all of these factors, for some Egyptian males, the public domain is theirs and only theirs. Aged eight and upwards, it is their God-given right to gawk, smirk, chide, and on rare occasions, shove. Anyone with a vagina best come prepared for battle necessitating the disdain, haughtiness, and intimidatingly ferocious temper of an ice queen.

Going about daily activities garners unsolicited harmless appreciation, condemnation to hell, and more lecherous suggestions from various charmers who have felt compelled to sidle up to me on foot or in their car and say something. I’ve had boys, no older than 13 at best, aggressively get in my face with a litany of inappropriate comments. I am twice their age.

Initially this caused a destructive spiral of self-evaluation: was I wearing something wrong? Doing something incorrectly? Walking in a provocative way? Bad idea. As long as you’re respectful of context, don’t go down this path. You can be a ninja (i.e. niqabi) and at some point you’ll get harassed.

To keep perspective, I have been lucky enough to avoid any sort of physical harassment, although I have heard awful first and second-hand stories. (Harassment is common enough here that women regularly trade stories and tips on how to avoid it.) However, even having to make the distinction between physical and verbal harassment and count it as a blessing is unacceptable.

IMG_3191(Bottom left: “Be a man and protect her.”)

Now the rage has set in, and I’m on the warpath.

I have been told to respond with a graceful, matronly “respect yourself” to shame the harasser. However, most of these men are not overly earnest, harmless youth intoxicated on the freedoms of fluttering away from the mother hen; nor, are they middle-aged men being daringly forward just for a day. For the few who are one timers, it’s generally apparent from their timid demeanor. These men are serial harassers who take an obvious sense of entitled enjoyment in their behavior. A reminder of moral integrity has leverage when they acknowledge that their behavior is shameful to begin with, but most harassers are unconcerned. Well, that is, until you make enough ruckus to scare them off.

What these serial harassers don’t expect is for you to fight back. And definitely not loudly. Make a scene. Yell back. Throw things. Throw water. Just do enough to make clear that you were wronged and will not tolerate it. Draw attention to the harasser from anyone nearby. Having ignored it in the past, now I make a point to stop, turn back and belligerently address anyone who makes comments while I’m walking past. So far, I’ve been met with blank faces, wide-eyed with surprise that I didn’t just skulk away. Likely inappropriate, but, I’ve also started to deliberately seek out eye contact with harassers who slow down in their cars to mutter something, murder in my eyes, and then throw up my middle finger. Not a big deal in the States, but here, this has elicited double takes and hopefully deterred further behavior, though one can never be sure.

IMG_3202(“No to harassment.”)

Amid the incorrigible behavior of these men, the reputations of kind, respectful, decent men suffer and all Egyptian men are unfairly debased. While I have never experienced this extent of harassment, I have also never been as well taken care of by men who are true gentlemen (except, perhaps, in Sudan). Aware of the harassment faced by women, they have helped to deter it whenever they can by going out of their way to walk or drive me somewhere, or calling to make sure I have arrived safely.

That male friends, acquaintances, and colleagues – not just family – feel compelled to protect women from other men reflects how tautly the social fabric is stretched as trust between the sexes ceases to exist. Boys learn by example that it is ok to debase women, to infringe upon their sense of safety. Erring on the side of caution, women are always on their guard. Society further instills a divide between the sexes, to, among other reasons, protect women’s chastity from ravenous, opportunistic men. Not only does this create temptation of the forbidden, but it limits the opportunities for respectful, friendly interactions between the sexes. And the cycle of harassment continues.

Every day women re-engage in the battle to establish their right to be safe in the public space. Every day the gains of yesterday must be defended and reinforced today.