The day Egypt lost its virginity

February 26, 2016 HUMAN RIGHTS , OPINION/NEWS

By

Ahmed Tharwat

 

Last week two events took place in Egypt that shed some light on the paranoid fascist system that is running the country right now.

First an Egyptian author has been put on a trial and given a two-year prison sentence for “violating public modesty” according to the judge. Although his novel “The Guide for Using Life” was approved by the censorship board (Moral Cops) before, this took place when sexually explicit excerpts of his novel were published in the literary section of the Al Ahkbar newspaper. Someone took notice and took him to court. This, a few days before an act that took place that had actually violated public modesty by all standards, even from Al Sisi supporters themselves, when Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s convoy drove along a giant red carpet that extended more than 3 miles in the street to open a public housing project.

General el-Sisi who, according to Amnesty International, was accused of heading the Military security unit that oversaw the forced virginity test performed on young Egyptian women at Tahrir Square during the January 25th revolution; the man who had raped Egypt with a military coup against the first civilian elected president, now wants Egyptians to trust him to take custody of the country. “I want all Egyptians to listen to me, and only me” el-Sisi told a huge audience during an economic development conference yesterday.

I went to Egypt right after the revolution to check on the forced virginity test that was flouting over the internet. This is the story of Jihan and Rasha, two young activists whose lives were shattered forever, the story of the forced virginity test that was performed on young Egyptian women activists by Military security during the height of the revolution.

The virginity test allegations first surfaced after a March 9th rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that turned violent when men in plain clothes attacked protesters and the army intervened forcefully to clear the square. Amnesty International further documented the abuse allegations in a report that found 18 female detainees were threatened with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests. They were also beaten up and given electric shocks, the report said.

With the help of Karim Reda, a facebook activist friend in Egypt, I was able to get the phone numbers of two of these young women who had lived the “forced virginity test” ordeal. Rash Abdelrahman, a 28 year old college student and Jihan Mahmoud, a 29 year old social worker. I called Rasha Abdelrahman, introduced myself as Ahmed Tharwat, an Egyptian American, doing a TV story about the Egyptian revolution and the role of women. I continued, “I would love to talk to you about the …” (I wasn’t sure if I should say virginity test in Arabic in our first conversation) so I asked her, “Can I talk to you about the ordeal with the Military. She got my drift. “Ohhh, you mean … ‘Kashf Elozrayah’,” (virginity test) she causally said. “Sure, give me your number and I will call you back.”

Two days later she called and asked if she could bring her friend, another young lady who was also a victim of the “Kashf Alozriay” ordeal. “Of course, I would love to talk to you both.” I chose a public place for our first meeting, the famous Groppi Café in downtown Cairo. I took my small FLIP camera and went to the café on a Tuesday afternoon. The time we set to meet was 2 pm, but knowing Egyptian time I freed up the whole afternoon for this meeting. Groppi is an old-fashioned café. Its glory days have passed by; nothing in the interior or exterior has changed since about the sixties, the spacious entrance, the breeze coming in the open doors, the tall windows, the smiling dark waiter, the broken tiles, the leaky faucet, ceiling fans, and, of course, the man with the tissue in the bathroom.

Rasha and Jihan had never talked to the media before. Finally, I spotted two young ladies talking, smiling and walking back and forth in front of the café. “Are you Rasha?” I asked them. “Are you Mr. Ahmed?” she giggled. “Yes, Ahlan Wasahlan. Welcome, and thank you for coming.” Rasha was wearing a stylishly modern hijab, the one that just covers the head, and not the face, and a red dress over her jeans. She had an infectious laugh, and did most of the talking. Jihan was the quite one; she had stylish short hair, a scarf around her neck, and magnetic deep dark eyes. Her dress was of a rebellious nature. “Anything to drink?” the waiter asked.  Everyone ordered lemonade. The Groppi cafe has been known for its excellent fresh lemonade since the sixties.

 

 

I first asked them to tell me what actually happened that day of March 9th 2011. “The military wanted to break us, and humiliate us,” Rasha explained, “and as far as I’m concerned, Tantawi is a war criminal,” she said with a strong voice. “We were there at Tahrir for the general strike; we thought it would be like all other demonstrations,” Rasha added. “We went to Tahrir, as usual,” Jihan explained, “the day was uneventful. Later at about 4pm, we found people in plain clothes started attacking us with rocks and Molotov cocktails. I had to get a stick to protect myself,” Jihan explained.

Rasha and Jihan talked to me in more detail about the most tragic day of their life, about their abducted friends, who were being taken away to the Egyptian Museum and not returning. They went to find out what was happening. They were surprised to find themselves arrested, beaten, and verbally abused by military security. “You are whores, decent girls stay home and don’t come to Tahrir,” the officer told them. “The beating started,” Jihan said. “I told the officer who I had seen before in another confrontation, no matter what you do to me, nothing will break me tonight.” This was a challenge to him and he wanted to break us. “You are my game tonight,” he told Jihan. They tied them to the Egyptian Museum fence like animals, beating and verbally abusing them.

Four hours later, they took them away to the military jail in El Hexisteb, a military base in Cairo. “Once I saw a big picture of Mubarak hanging on the wall of the office, I told myself, this can’t be good,” Rasha remembered. “Then the general came and asked if we had any health problems. Next, a female jailer,” Rasha continued (A social worker according to Jihan, who is a social worker herself with a degree in psychology). They took them to a room which was missing its door. The female security guard started frisking them, touching them all over. They complained about the overzealous security female guard. “This is wrong, sir,” Rasha told the male officer. “Either this female guard or we get a male one” he threatened them. “It was very humiliating,” Rasha said. The female security asked them to undress; they thought just jackets and scarves. No, everything, take all your clothes off, even your underpants” the security ordered them with a firm voice. “I could see the solders and officers  standing outside watching what is going on inside the room” Jihan said.  “All this was done by our military, the one who claimed they protected the revolution,” she said incredulously.

It is late into the night now. They were tired and frustrated, however, holding strong, their morale still high. “They really didn’t think we would be that strong,” Jihan explained. A military physician, Ahmed Adel walked into the room, and without  saying a word, have their hymens checked. Later and on March 11, Dr. Adel was declared innocent by a military court.

They, in all, 18 women, suffered together through a long night of beatings and humiliation. Then the Military Security took them to the military administrative center where they put Molotov’s bottles on a table on front of them, and started taking pictures of them without any permission. “You are taking picture of us, so you can distort our images in your media,’ Jihan told the officer. “This officer did something I will never forget,” Jihan said in a defiant voice.  He kicked me so hard. It was personal, between me and him, not a security issue,” Jihan explained.

Jihan and Rasha believed that the forced virginity test was all planned; it wasn’t just an oversight or mismanagement by a few angry individuals. “They have higher orders,” Rasha said. In a such patriarchal society the Military wanted to discredit the young activists and the young revolutionaries movement all together as decadent young troublemakers. Then Jihan looked at herself and said, “My clothes have to stay on my body until I get my day in court, but in the jail, I was forced to take my clothes off, and forced to have my virginity checked.” … it is raped, I was raped that day” she added. The officers kept humiliating them, telling them angrily it is their entire fault, repeating, “Decent women don’t do this, they stay home, they don’t protest or go to Tahrir.” Rasha explained, “This officer doesn’t read or understand history, Egyptian women played a major role in the revolution, starting a long time ago, in the 1919 revolution, and Hoda Sharawi with her women rights movement that started in Egypt in the 30s.”

I finally asked both of them how this virginity test ordeal had affected their lives. “March 9th, 2011, this day was a great honor, and to me it was the first day of the Egyptian revolution,” Rasha said in a very deep, serious voice. Jihan looked at me with her deep dark eyes, smiled and said nothing; until today her look still haunting me. This was their story, the story where two amazing young Egyptian women exposed the Egyptian Military, the Egyptian military that lost its virginity on March 9th, 2011.

 

 

 

Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is host and producer of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan, TPT Mondays, 10:30pm. On twitter @ahmediatv.

2 Comments

  1. sattar rind February 26, at 21:32

    well written and it was very much clear that army will not allow the Egyptian people to run Egypt.besides political process are different from any other social issues. as the supporter of Egyptian uprising or may say revolution has been disappointed when Muslim brotherhood party come into the power. this was very disappointing out come of the historical public protest of Egyptian people.

    Reply

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