Problems that are placed on hold have a way of blowing up in your face when you least expect it. This is exactly what happened with one of the most horrendous of the problems long placed on hold in Egypt,
that of sexual harassment. Egyptian society has traditionally either turned a blind eye to harassment or discounted it altogether. But no matter how hard the attempt to cover it up or look the other way, sexual harassment remains an affront to the nation and a disgrace for its men.
Time was when the meanest possible a man could descend to was to trap a female in some deserted spot and sexually assault her. Back then this was seen as the epitome of meanness, cowardice, and unmanliness. Today our women, sisters, and daughters are harassed verbally and physically in the most ignoble manner, in broad daylight, under the eyes and noses of passersby among whom no one lifts a finger.
There can be no two opinions over the fact that the harassers’ ignominious acts are alien to our ethics and values, and warrant the harshest condemnation and penalty. But the real catastrophe lies in the disgraceful apathy and appalling failure of our public, especially our men, to take an active stand against the crime.
Once an incident of harassment or rape is publicised, the public wrathfully rises as one man to call for retribution and harsher legal penalties. This in itself is required, but will not alone solve the problem. Egyptians need to undertake some serious soul-searching to fathom why harassment is allowed to take place unresisted and why, once it does occur, nothing is done to stop it. The unforgivable crime is that we do not combat harassment yet, when it takes place, we scream for retribution.
It is appalling that some in our community justify harassment by opening fire on women for wearing ‘indecent’ clothes. This is a lame excuse that goes against the ethical legacy of our society. Throughout their history Egyptians have highly respected women; anyone who dared trifle with them had the entire community to answer to for his shameless deed. Yet today women going on errands or heading to their work tread into a veritable jungle of beasts ready to devour them. The beast boasts his virility, while his fellowmen appear unperturbed by his crime.
We had customarily warned our women against the verbal harassment or offensive gestures they might encounter on the street. We cautioned against angry response, and advised absolute disregard should any such instance occur, in order to avoid clashes or arguments with a man whose ethics condone harassing women. But now that the matter has gone beyond offensive words or gestures and into actual physical assault, how can they ‘ignore’ that? As the victim cries out and uses all her might to ward the danger off her body, how devastating to see other men rush to the scene not to rescue her but to look on. In the best of cases, they might save her from his clutches but then allow him to flee the scene, content with having rescued her. Yet the criminal runs free, in all probability boasting of his miserable virility.
Then we act terrified and horrified at the recent harassment crime in Tahrir Square! Can no one see that it was the predictable outcome of our general attitude towards harassment? Is it not the natural result of the laxity in applying the law against harassers?
I appreciate President Sisi’s initiative to visit the harassment victim in hospital. As he gave her a bunch of roses he offered in no ambiguous terms his heartfelt apologies to her and to every Egyptian woman, and promised that the State with all its might will combat this crime. But I appreciated even more Sisi’s cry to all Egyptian men to rally their values, ethics, and nobility to stand up to harassment and ensure it never takes place. If the State possesses the authority of justice and retribution, it is the men of Egypt who possess the power to bring healing to the soul of the victims by assuming an unalloyed stance against the crime. It is the men of this community who should declare sexual harassment an affront to the nation and its men.
22 June 2014