Egyptian Vigilantes Crack Down on Abuse of Women
The young activists lingered on the streets around Tahrir Square, scrutinizing the crowds of holiday revelers. Suddenly, they charged, pushing people aside and chasing down a young man. As the captive thrashed to get away, the activists pounded his shoulders, flipped him around and spray-painted a message on his back: “I’m a harasser.”
Egypt’s streets have long been a perilous place for women, who are frequently heckled, grabbed, threatened and violated while the police look the other way. Now, during the country’s tumultuous transition from authoritarian rule, more and more groups are emerging to make protecting women — and shaming the do-nothing police — a cause.
“They’re now doing the undoable?” a police officer joked as he watched the vigilantes chase downthe young man. The officer quickly went back to sipping his tea.
The attacks on women did not subside after the uprising. If anything, they became more visible as even the military was implicated in the assaults, stripping female protesters, threatening others with violence and subjecting activists to so-called virginity tests. During holidays, when Cairenes take to the streets to stroll and socialize, the attacks multiply.
But during the recent Id al-Adha holiday, some of the men were surprised to find they could no longer harass with impunity, a change brought about not just out of concern for women’s rights, but out of a frustration that the post-revolutionary government still, like the one before, was doing too little to protect its citizens.