Please respect my privacy
BY REHAM BARAKAT
Recently, I saw a status on Facebook that resonated well with me. It said: Religion is private. I clicked the Like button and wished that more people believed in this sophisticated, non-judgmental, apolitical statement about religion. This was exacerbated even more after the supposedly religiously incited Suez incident, which took place at the beginning of this month.
The story goes that a 20-year-old engineering student named Ahmed Said was stabbed to death in Suez allegedly by bearded men, while he was walking with his fiance. Media reported that, according to eyewitnesses, Said was attacked by three men with long beards and dressed in galabeyyas. They asked him what his relationship was with the woman accompanying him, and when he answered that it was none of their business, one of the men reportedly stabbed him between his legs. The young man eventually and very sadly passed away in hospital as a result of his injuries.
The story raised eyebrows on the possibility of the rise of “morality police” in the country, especially after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi won the presidential election indicating what could be defined as a increased Islamism. The “moralit police” of course, being an informal group of individuals unaffiliated with any formal religious institution and who self-righteously condemn others for what they believe is religious vice and, accordingly, act upon it in the way they see fit. This could range from comments on the street patronizingly telling women to dress more modestly, to the Suez killing. The bottom line is that the possibility of the rise of such vigilantism leads to a crippling fear of religious extremism and an invasion of one’s privacy.
A friend of mine exemplified this fear, encouraging me not to write anything about religion or the Suez incident lest I be labeled a “heretic” and suffer the consequences. A valid point, I must say, but one that got me thinking about the amount of fear enveloping Egyptian society as a whole. I’m not just talking about Islamophobia, but about so many other concepts related to our daily lives.
We’re afraid now of getting mugged in the street, of our cars being stolen, our handbags being casually taken from us without noticing in restaurants. We’re afraid that the taxi driver will turn out to be a criminal and vice versa. We’re afraid of driving home late in the middle of the night. We’re afraid the police won’t help us. We’re afraid of harassment in all its forms. We’re afraid of our president, we’re afraid of who he will appoint as prime minister. We’re afraid of who will become the Minister of Education and, most of all, we’re afraid of the future and uncertain about what will become of our country.
And rightfully so.
But it’s not supposed to be that way. We’re not supposed to live with so much stress and anxiety about every aspect of our lives — whether we notice or not, it might have become second nature to us. We’re supposed to be able to sleep in peace at the end of the day trusting that we have systems and institutions in the country that have been designed and resourced with individuals who are working for the greater good. It is not always supposed to be a battle for all of us. That young man from Suez should be able to walk with his fiance freely and enjoy his time. We should be able to call the police confidently and know that our stolen car could be returned. Women should be able to report cases of harassment with integrity and no shame. And most of all, justice should be served across all levels of society and justice should be respected so that we as citizens feel that we have rights and umbrellas protecting us from all the fear we live in. We should be able to have faith in our president that he will be working diligently for the sake of the country and all its people and that he will choose a government that represents us all. We should be able to make solid and reliable plans for our futures that are attainable which do not involve leaving the country out of fear.
But am I being idealistic?
The proof is this fear found me begging a guest of mine yesterday not to venture out into the streets of Cairo wearing a knee-length skirt in case she gets sexually harassed. My guest, a confessed liberal, said to me, “Don’t worry, if anyone does anything I’ll pound them, and anyway if I change the way I dress, then they will have won.”
Yes, my friend, they will have won, but in a reality as sore as the one we live in now we might have to learn to pick our battles well because it will take years of education, reform and drastic measures in the rule of law before you will be able to walk down the street in your knee-length skirt and win. And by win, I mean win the battle against the so-called morality police and the macho bullies who harass women because nothing in Egypt has become private. Not even our own bodies, let alone our cars, our bags, our homes, our streets, our thoughts or our ideologies.
Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.