The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson

THE ART OF
KEVIN BLYTHE SAMPSON

12/20/11

Thousands of Women Mass in Major March in Cairo - NYTimes.com

Mass March by Cairo Women in Protest Over Soldiers’ Abuse

Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

Women protested against the military council violations against female demonstrators in Cairo, on Tuesday.

CAIRO — Thousands of woman marched through downtown Cairo on Tuesday evening to call for the end of military rule in an extraordinary expression of anger over images of soldiers beating, stripping and kicking a female demonstrator on the pavement of Tahrir Square.

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Nasser Nasser/Associated Press

Egyptian protesters detained a suspected government collaborator, third from right, in Tahrir Square on Tuesday.

Associated Press

Protesters threw rocks toward Egyptian forces near Tahrir Square in Cairo early Tuesday.

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“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” they chanted. “Where is the field marshal?” they demanded, referring to Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military council holding onto power here. “The girls of Egypt are here.”

The event may have been the biggest women’s demonstration in Egypt’s history, and the most significant since a 1919 march led by pioneering Egyptian feminist Huda Shaarawi to protest British rule. The scale was stunning, and utterly unexpected in this strictly patriarchal society. Previous attempts to organize women’s events in Tahrir Square this year have either fizzled or, in at least one case, ended in the physical harassment of the handful of women who did turn out.

The women’s chants were evidently heard at military headquarters as well. On Tuesday evening, the ruling military council offered an abrupt apology.

“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its utmost sorrow for the great women of Egypt, for the violations that took place during the recent events,” the council said in a statement. “It stresses its great appreciation for the women of Egypt and for their right to protest and to actively, positively participate in political life on the path of democratic transition.”

Although no one in the military has been publicly investigated or charged in connection with any misconduct, the statement asserted that the council had already taken “all the legal actions to hold whoever is responsible accountable.”

On the fifth of day of clashes between demonstrators and military police, the outpouring of women represented a stark shift for a protest movement that has often seemed to degenerate to crowds of young men trading volleys of rocks with riot police. It comes at a moment when many protesters were beginning to despair that they were losing a propaganda war against the military rulers’ attempts to portray them as vandals and arsonists out to ruin the country.

Just two hours before the women massed, a coalition of liberal and human rights groups unveiled a plan to try to break state media’s grip on public opinion by holding screenings around the country of video capturing recent military abuses. Groups of soldiers have been recorded beating prone demonstrators with clubs, firing rifles and handguns as they chased protestors, and more than one version of soldiers stripping female demonstrators.

In the most famous of those, a half dozen soldiers beating a woman with batons rip away her abaya to reveal her blue bra before one plants his boot on her chest. Fearful of the stigma that would come with her public humiliation, she has declined to step forward publicly, but the images of “blue bra girl” have been circulated over the Internet and broadcast by television stations around the world.

In Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton alluded to the episode when she called the recent events in Egypt “shocking.”

“Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago,” Mrs. Clinton said. “Women are being attacked, stripped, and beaten in the streets,” she added, arguing that “this systematic degradation of Egyptian women “disgraces the state and its uniform.”

Relatively few Egyptians have Internet access or watch independent satellite television news, and many political organizers say they believed the scene is now more widely familiar in the United States than it is in Egypt. “Four blocks from here, no one knows about this,” said Aalam Wassef, a blogger and activist participating in the plan to try to spread the images.

That may have begun to change Monday when a general on the ruling military council acknowledged the event in a news conference broadcast on state television, arguing that the scene was taken out of context and other circumstances make help explain it. A veteran female journalist covering the military rose to ask the general for an apology specifically to Egyptian women for their treatment over the previous days.

“I demand that the military council gives serious and important consideration to the issue of women, or the next revolution will be a women revolution for real,” she warned. The general, however, first tried to interrupt her to announce that the military had learned of a new plan to attack the Parliament — already behind heavy barriers — and then brushed off her request.

Many Egyptian women said later that they were outraged by the general’s handling of the question and nonchalance about the attack.

When the core of activists called for a Tuesday march to protest the military’s treatment of women — organizers on the Internet service Twitter used the tag “BlueBra” — few could have expected the magnitude of the response.

By four in the afternoon, thousands had gathered in Tahrir Square. Instead of the usual core of activists, it was a broad spectrum including housewives demonstrating for the first time, young mothers carrying babies, a majority in traditional Muslim headscarves and a few in face-covering veils. And as they marched towards the headquarters of the journalists union, two long lines of hundreds of men joined hands on either side of the column of women to protect them from any possible harassment.

The crowd seemed to grew at each step as the women in the march called up to the apartment buildings lining the streets to urge others to join — “come down, come down,” they shouted in an echo of the protests that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak 10 months ago.

“If you don’t leave your house today to confront the militias of Tantawi, you will leave your house tomorrow so they can rape your daughter,” one sign declared.

“I am here because of our girls who were stripped in the street,” said Sohir Mahmoud, 50, a housewife who said she was demonstrating for the first time. “Men are not going to cover your flesh so we will,” she told a younger woman. “We have to come down and call for our rights nobody is going to call for our rights for us.”

In the days since the picture of the demonstrator in the blue bra have emerged some men here have questioned her presence in the square in the first place, wondering why her husband or father let her go. Others have argued that she must have wanted the exposure because she wore fancy lingerie, or that she should have worn more clothes under her abaya.

Activists have traded advice online that any woman heading to Tahrir Square should wear more layers than ever before. And some women in the march derided the men’s criticism, one joking to the other, “It is cold — you have to wear a blanket when you go out of the house!”

Along the sidewalks beside the march, some men came out to gawk and stare. Others chanted along with the women, “freedom, freedom.”

“I came so that girls are not stripped in the streets again,” said Afa Helal, 67, also demonstrating for the first time, “and because my daughters are always going to Tahrir. The army is supposed to protect the girls not strip them!”

Mayy el-Sheik contributed reporting.

20 Comments

Share your thoughts.

    • EgyptianForFreedom
    • LA

    Shame! Shame on the Army..corrupt ..corrupt and useless!

    • John
    • Atlanta, GA

    The Military Junta in Egypt is getting its orders from outside of the country. The Junta called their own Coup d’Ă©tat a Revolution, and thought they can get away with this fake appellation. The Achilles-heel of these puppets is the building of the Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, where all the foreign orders are received. Take it and you liberate your country.

    • tewfic el-sawy
    • new york city
    NYT Pick

    The armchair pundits who express their misguided (and largely clueless) statements that Egypt is not ready for democracy astound me...but then I remember that they're clueless for a reason. They're unable to follow the news from Egypt, and rely either on the sanitized version of what passes for news in the US media or succumb to their own bias and bigotry...or both. To wit: a NYT 'trusted commentator' expressed his view that it would've been better if Mubarak had stayed in power...and questioned if Egypt was ready for democracy. Perhaps he ought to watch the interview today given by Ghada Kamal (the young woman who was beaten and humiliated by the military) expressing her resolve to have democracy in Egypt and bring the military to justice for what they've done to her -and to others- in detention...and for having hijacked the revolution. Look it up on YouTube.

    I can assure you, sir...she, as well as millions of Egyptians are ready for democracy. What they hope for is the support of fair-minded people...not bias, not bigotry, not off the cuff, clueless, demeaning and patronizing statements.

    • Wizarat
    • Moorestown, NJ

    When do we get any action from UN or NATO re saving the unarmed protestors,
    How about a no fly zone -
    no that is only for the other goons, these are our goons.

    • anton v. lersundi
    • Navarre

    The Egyptian military follow the same techniques that their colleagues in Chile.
    Murdering civilians, beating and undresing women, -in an Arab country- are their glorious deeds. And the US give 3b US$ every year to these filthy cowards.

    • TC
    • DC

    Blaming the protestors for the violence is about as ridiculous as Sadaam blaming the U.S. for his downfall.

    • abby
    • texas

    say hello to the new "boss" -- same as the "old" boss --- actually, the boss is the same -- the military....

    • Romy
    • NYC

    After watching the video of the young woman who was beaten, kicked, and dragged in the street by at least a half-dozen military with batons, the claim that protesters are to blame is ludicrous. Clearly, the military are intent on crushing any civilian action and subjecting unarmed individuals to their extremely violent ends.

    • hen3ry
    • New York

    This is an alarming development given the fact that the Egyptians wanted the freedom to choose their head of state. Now it seems as if the military will back their own candidate and enforce it through some of the same unsavory tactics used by other juntas.

    • Rob DL
    • Connecticut
    • Trusted

    So far, based on what we see, it would have been better if Mubarak stayed in power.

    Perhaps Hosni Mubarak resisted calls by the Obama Administration and the West for "democratic reform" because he knew his country simply wasn't ready for it.

    1. No way- this is part of a long and difficult process called "Democracy". Egyptians are doing an incredible job at pushing through a historic juncture, and deserve our continued support. Here in America we fought the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the 700,000 died in the Civil War before we were truly unified. Egypt has come a long way in 11 months.

      Egypt is ready for democracy, as the recent parliamentary elections attest. The vast majority of people voted, and peacefully. Its just that the military is attempting to cling to power. But with pressure from the street, the Muslim brotherhood, and the US, they WILL give up power to civilians.

      • tewfic el-sawy
      • new york city

      "...his country simply wasn't ready for it."

      I love it when armchair pundits pontificate about Egypt's political situation ... it's always so entertaining...so let me bite. Please expand on your statement that it would be better if Mubarak wasn't kicked out. Better for whom? And when you've tackled this, please explain when is a country "ready" for democratic reforms. I thought freedom is a human right.

      thanks a bunch.

      • Chris
      • Vermont

      Better for whom?

    • Mao
    • Sinai, Egypt

    Why is this surprise? The military have ruled Egypt since Nasser. They will not give up the reins of power voluntarily. Their actions speak louder than their words.

    • Steve Thompson
    • Maine

    According to a study by a well-respected think tank, Egypt has a history of being among the least free nations in the world. Here is an examination of how both civil and political freedom in Egypt is crushed, how the level of freedom in the country compares to other nations in the region and what changes need to be implemented to improve the situation for Egyptians:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/11/freedom-in-egypt-what-are-p...

    • Madam Defarge
    • New York

    Mayor Bloomberg is considering outsourcing NYPD's crowd control activities to the a private security team associated with the Egyptian army. A spokesman from the Mayor's office stated that they do not expect there to be any increase in civil rights violations with this Wall Street changing of the guard. Most observer's agree that at increase in police violence is unlikely.

    • Buckeye
    • Ohio

    Dozens of protesting Egyptian patriots have been killed by thugs in uniform using bullets, beatings or toxic tear gas (made in the USA); hundreds have been severely wounded; women, in particular, have been brutally abused by police thugs, and the military rulers deny responsibility and arrogantly blame the victims of their bloody repression. These are the birth pangs of a new Egypt, one which will be governed by the spirit of Isis and Osiris and no longer by descendants of the killer god, Seth.

    • George Ennis
    • Toronto, Canada
    • Trusted

    Hopefully the Egyptian generals will be awarded medals for bravery. It takes a special person to attack unarmed women and children but the Egyptian generals rose to the challenge.

      • Yabaulee
      • NYC

      Yes sir...it's a junta.

    • Anniken Davenport
    • Harrisburg

    This is beginning to look a lot like a military coup. Where is Turkey? http://valhallapress.blogspot.com

Thousands of Women Mass in Major March in Cairo - NYTimes.com