Op-ed: Rape of a nation
BY REHAM BARAKAT
We have been brought up naively and falsely to believe that incidents of this kind do not happen in Egypt. But I remember thinking that when news of the Delhi rape broke that surely similar crimes are committed in our nation but are hardly ever reported or covered by the media. Whatever the reasons for silence about rape cases, there is no doubt in my mind that Egyptian women are exposed to this kind of terror as well. Especially so with the recent escalation in the number of sexual harassment cases which occur on a daily basis while women are pursuing their daily lives or most prominently during protests in Tahrir Square.
Just last night, a brave Egyptian women appeared on TV and relayed her version of a mass sexual assault incident in Tahrir Square. Again, I don’t want to get into the details of the incident because it has already been covered by the press but the phrase “rape by hands” should be enough for any reader to visualize what took place.
Ironically, also last night several viewers witnessed live on TV the brutal assault of a man by security forces near the Presidential Palace. The man’s clothes were shamelessly stripped off and he was dragged naked in the street towards a central security forces truck by uniformed men and only God knows what form of further torture he was exposed to beyond the view of the cameras. This too is an illegitimate and metaphoric form of rape of civilians in a nation that continues to claim its high moral ground and unlike India “we do not have such rape cases” – a claim that couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, the people of our nation are all being raped somehow. I am not merely talking about the sexual act, which is an unforgivable reality, but I am talking about people being stripped of their dignity and human rights, which is what the January 25 revolution two years ago was addressing.
In a nation where young children and old women sleep on the street from fatigue on the cold pavements with no shelter; in a nation where it is reported that 16 million people live in slums probably also brutally exposed to the cold winter nights; in a nation where people eat out of garbage cans, there is no doubt that by the most conservative estimates, a little under a quarter of Egyptians do not enjoy their basic human rights.
In a nation that is on the brink of economic collapse but those in power toy with the idea of rationing bread down to only three loaves a day per citizen while they are driven around through this dilapidated country in luxury cars; in a nation where leaders are pondering imposing limits on petrol consumption in the middle of a gas crisis that has left motorists stranded in queues for hours while they travel in luxury cars brimming with the highest quality petrol, the average Egyptian is treated with no worth, dignity, respect or any form of compassion. How is it logical that to solve the economic crisis facing Egypt you to strip those living far below the poverty line from their basic needs and to increase pressure on their already burdensome lives?
In a nation where peaceful protesters fighting for human rights and dignity are labeled as vandals because of random acts of violence and as a result a man is stripped, beaten and assaulted by security forces instead of listening and finding out the reasons behind the rage in the streets, then there is a problem with the attitude and problem-solving skills of those in power. When we live in a nation where people are assaulted to protect concrete, such as the Presidential Palace which symbolizes the leader of a government that till today has not outlined any solid, relevant, credible plan for raising the standard of living of Egyptians, then it makes sense that some people will resort to civil disobedience in order to be heard.
I do not condone violence on any level, but I do believe that the lives and stature of Egyptians is worth much more than a concrete building and to shield one individual who thinks he is listening to the needs of the people on the street, but is actually not.
It is true that the state of deterioration of Egypt was inherited from the failings of the corrupt and greedy former regime, but it is time that as Egyptians we feel, see and believe that those in power today are working diligently to change this, not to replicate it. We do not need another kleptocracy that robs Egyptians from being able to ever fathom that their lives might improve. It is time that our leaders stop metaphorically stripping Egyptians of everything they have just so they can maintain their position in power. If they don’t, the violence and acts of civil disobedience will only get worse as people struggle to have their muted voices heard and their basic needs satisfied.
Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.