Thousands of Egyptian women held an all-female demonstration yesterday in Cairo, wanting to show the world the importance of the protests, but also to spotlight and condemn the violent treatment of women during the past few days of protests–particularly, the treatment of one woman who can be seen being dragged by her bra and then clubbed and kicked. Hilary Clinton said this in a speech yesterday about the treatment of the female protesters at Washington’s Georgetown University:
“Women protesters have been rounded up and subjected to horrific abuse. Journalists have been sexually assaulted. And now women are being attacked, stripped and beaten in the streets. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.”
I attempt to put myself in this situation, but of course, that’s absurd. Women protesting, knowing full well that they’re going to be putting themselves in harms way, that they’re putting themselves in the middle of a violent response–how could I possibly understand? How could I possibly relate?
This is what they chanted through the streets yesterday:
“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” and “The girls of Egypt are here.”
The New York Times reported that historians are calling this the biggest women’s demonstration in modern Egyptian history.
I traveled to Cairo when I was 20 years old. I was a student at Tel Aviv University. We were told not to say we were Jewish students coming from Israel. We were told to say that we were American tourists.
My friend and I travelled with four guys. We promised that we wouldn’t leave the group.
But because we were savvy and college educated– because we knew everything — we decided to take our own taxi ride out of town to go shopping. You know, a good old fashioned bazaar. “We want authentic Egyptian fare” we told the cab driver who showed us pictures of his children while driving.
Everything went good and well until the 10 minute ride to the bazaar turned into a 30 minute and 45 minute ride. Where were we going? we asked.
“I’m taking you to the best shop,” he said.
Outside of the car, I watched the city of Cairo disappear. Smaller houses surrounded us. Children walking to school. We were in the suburbs. We pulled up to a small shop and went inside. There was not another shopper there.
“I thought we were going to an outdoor market?” I said.
“This is the best market around,” the taxi driver told us. His friend, who owned the shop, shut the door.
My friend and I turned to each other. You could say it was a WTF moment.
We each picked up two items, small things and told the man we were ready to pay.
“This is all you’re buying?” he said. “You want to buy more. Come on, buy more.” He was enthusiastic. He walked around the shop picking up all sorts of items we could bring home to our families.
But I was from New York City. I defended myself from pan handlers who tried to steal my purse on the subway! I stood up to obnoxious frat boys. I had a younger brother that I used to wrestle with!
“We’re not buying anything else and we want to go back to our hotel, now,” I said.
This is not how it works in Egypt. You don’t get to say, “I want to go home, now,” and expect people to obey you. Women are not treated with this kind of luxury.
We were told by our friendly taxi driver that we were brats. That he could leave us here right in the street. That he took us to this lovely shop and now we were ungrateful. That he didn’t want to take us back to the hotel.
“No,” I said, getting loud. “You are taking us back.”
But my friend instructed me to stop talking. Because New York City edge doesn’t translate when two Egyptian men are holding you somewhat captive in their store which is God-knows-where.
“Of course we want to buy more things! Of course we’re so appreciative,” she said. “You showed us pictures of your children. Come on, we’re all friends, right? Right? You showed us pictures of your children.”
So we bought things. And I shut up. Because I was American and spoiled. He was correct. And in a country like Egypt where the women are scratching to be equals, I learned not to talk. He drove us home through the town where I looked around at my surroundings. The rubble on the street. The children smoking. The signs in another language. It would have been that easy for him to leave us. We catered to his conversation from the back seat. Giggling and laughing. Thanking him. Thank you so much for brining us to such an incredible shop.
That was 20 years ago. I see Egyptian women protest in the street and I’m moved by their bravery. That the simple task of marching down the street with thousands of other women can put them in great danger. But they must. And we march behind them.
(Image: Associated Press)