Egyptian women's groups outraged by attacks against women on Referendum day Print E-mail
The Middle East Times -- June 3 2004
Egyptian women's groups outraged by attacks against women on Referendum day
Ola Ahmed



OUTRAGED: Egyptian women activists demonstrate in front of the Syndicate of Journalists building in Cairo on June 1.The words on the photograph of the state security chief held by the protestor read 'trial him'.
(REUTERS)

Various Egyptian women's group activists and the pro-reform group Kifaya (Enough) criticized the official response to the physical and sexual assaults by security men against women during the May 25 referendum and condemned the National Council for Women for its silence on the issue.
   
Laila Soueif, an activist at the Egyptian Association Against Torture, criticized the National Council for Women for remaining silent on the abuse women faced on voting day.
   
But Farkhanda Hassan, secretary-general of the women council, dismissed the attacks as being outside the field of responsibility of the council.Hassan stressed that the council's duties do not include protecting female demonstrators, especially as they were not protesting for women's rights. Instead, Hassan said, the defense of female demonstrators is the responsibility of the National Council for Human Rights.
   
Aida Seif Al Dawla, head of the Egyptian Organization Against Torture, told the Middle East Times that the official response was insufficient and that it reflects the intentions of the regime.
   
"The response of state organizations, including the National Council for Women, is unsatisfactory," Dawla said. "Although the government could not and did not deny the aggression, it still could not take any action because the aggression was committed by the NDP's [National Democratic Party's] own men."
   
Amal Abdel Hadi, member of the New Women Foundation, also criticized the official response to the attacks, adding that the government remained "silent.
   
"It is the primary responsibility of the state to promote and protect women's right to freedom of expression, which is also a right of all citizens regardless of their gender," she said. "Instead, we saw that the state violated the very rights it is supposed to protect and promote."
   
The Union of Progressive Women of the Tagammua Party released a statement condemning "the aggression perpetrated against female journalists and lawyers by State Security men and thugs affiliated to the NDP".
   
"The union strongly rejects the aggression committed against Nawal Amad Ali, which is unprecedented in the history of political life in Egypt," the statement read. Ali, a journalist, was allegedly groped and had her clothes torn by NDP supporters on referendum day.
   
Around 1,000 journalists, lawyers and activists gathered on June 1 in front of the Journalists' Syndicate, garbed in black, to protest against the alleged sexual harassment of female activists and journalists by government partisans on polling day. They also released a statement signed by 22 NGOs demanding the resignation of interior minister Gen. Habib Al Adli and the punishment of NDP leaders and supporters who orchestrated the attacks.
   
"The assault on Egyptian women is symbolic of the current situation in Egypt, which lacks a parliament, an independent judiciary and an attorney general able to protect them [women] and hold the attackers accountable [for their acts]," the statement read.
   
The statement accused the Egyptian state of heavily using torture against both men and women as a tool of investigation and forced confessions.
   
According to Dawla, state security's attack on women was "meant to break the will of the opposition as a symbol of attack on the whole group.
   
"There is a widespread belief that men are insulted through the insult of their women," she added.
   
Soueif said that torture aimed at women has been used by Egypt's state security for many years, but the difference this time is that "it was done in the openly on the street.
   
"One veiled colleague of mine circulated an e-mail that sarcastically requested that all women should wear two layers of clothes; in case the first layer is torn, the second would hide their bodies," Soueif said. "The message we want to get out is that these women who had their clothes torn should not be embarrassed. It is the ones who tore their clothes who should be embarrassed instead."
   
Although all protestors were potential targets of violence, Abdel Hadi believes that women were particularly sought out and dealt with as sexual beings rather than human beings.
   
Soueif agreed, adding that women activists were "intentionally humiliated by the attackers whether by being grabbed from certain areas of their bodies or by having their clothes torn".
   
Abdel Hadi believes that women's bodies have always been used as a site for attacks, whether physical or sexual. "But this is the first time that we have seen such attacks in a demonstration," she said. "The most shocking thing about it is that it was systematic; political leaders and security men were giving orders to assault [women]."
   
In spite of the violence women were exposed to, Abdel Hadi remains optimistic. "Our message is that we are not afraid of these practices," she said. "These aggressive acts will actually lead us to fight even more persistently and will motivate more people to join the fight."
   
Soueif believes that women's NGOs should either pressure the government and the National Council for Women to take a stronger stand on the issue of the attacks or boycott the government and the council.
   
Activists from Kifaya, a movement that has been campaigning against a fifth term for Mubarak, said in a press conference on Thursday that they had strong evidence to show the involvement of Adli and members of the NDP in the attacks. The NDP, however, countered that Kifaya's reports were biased and that the party was investigating the allegations.
   
The group responded by saying that they would seek justice abroad if the violence goes unpunished.
   
"We want all those responsible in the NDP to be taken to justice. If Egypt's justice doesn't protect and defend us, we will go to the world court," Kifaya's leader George Isaac told reporters.
   
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, sent a letter to Mubarak expressing its shock at the violent physical assaults committed by members of the NDP against women journalists.
   
The group added that several journalists, including a British employee of the daily Los Angeles Times, were attacked while two women working for the French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the US news agency Associated Press (AP) were victims of the same type of attacks.
   
Meanwhile, a group of Egyptian artists, public figures and activists issued a joint statement in which they vowed to seek all possible efforts to keep President Hosni Mubarak in office for a fifth term in the upcoming September elections.
   
The 76-year-old president and leader of the National Democratic Party (NDP) has been running Egypt since the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Al Sadat in 1981. Mubarak's fourth six-year term ends in September.
   
The newly formed "Continuity for Prosperity" group began gathering signatures on a petition to convince people to reelect Mubarak.
   
Some 500 actors, lawyers, doctors, activists, students and intellectuals have signed the petition. Among the signatories were 20 members of parliament and 15 football players, civil society groups and some politicians, including Mohammed Abdel Aal, chairman of the Social Justice Party.
   
The group's president, veteran actor Hussein Fahmi, said that Mubarak has offered a lot to Egypt.
   
"I'm calling on all the members of Egyptian society, the NDP and the opposition groups to support the president who has spent all his life serving the country," Fahmi said. "We have to become one force and work for the country's prosperity and expose those who work for outside forces and aim at destroying the country's safety and security," he added.
   
The group, which critics say is the first real pro-Mubarak group in the country, said that it supported Egypt's first multicandidate elections, but added that at the moment Mubarak seems to be the only candidate fit for the job.

Copyright © 2005 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.