A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Justice Delayed: Samira Ibrahim's Day in Court Postponed

Samira Ibrahim's case against the Egyptian military before Egypt's State Council, which was expected to be heard yesterday, has been postponed until December 27.

If you don't recognize the name of Samira Ibrahim, it's because this young Egyptian woman has not gotten that much press, outside of the human rights community, in either the Western or Egyptian media. Both of these institutions have been far more concerned with reporting on Aliaa ElMahdy, the so-called "Nude Blogger," who posted full-frontal naked pictures of herself. Samira Ibrahim wears hijab and apparently has Islamist political leanings, and is thus not as newsworthy. (I myself haven't named Samira before, apparently.) Except that while Aliaa ElMahdy deliberately chose her highly public profile and notoriety, Samira Ibrahim made a courageous choice to protest what was inflicted on her. Of the numerous (at least seven, possibly dozens) of  young women who were arrested in Tahrir in March and subjected by the military to so-called "virginity tests," in which they were subjected to physical examination "to see if they were virgins," prodded naked with male military personnel looking on, Samira was the only one willing to pursue justice in the courts. Leaving aside the obvious objection that the question of their virginity had no bearing on any judicial case, the public violation of these women, in the presence of male soldiers and others, is an outrage. When an unidentified general told the media that "these girls are not like your daughters or mine," suggesting promiscuity in the Tahrir encampment, he just made the insult greater. Yet only Samira, who wears hijab, is fighting back.

More on the postponement of her case here; and a detailed (and thus rather graphic) account of what was done to these women, compiled by Human Rights Watch, here.

But Samira is quite capable of telling her own story, as she does here. Some of her opinions (as on Israel, for one thing) may not evoke your sympathy, but the rest of her story should evoke both sympathy and anger. Arabic (colloquial Egyptian) with English subtitles. (I think I've embedded this so the English subtitles will come up automatically; if they don't, click on the "CC" closed-captioning button on the lower right which should show up if you move your mouse down there.)

Yet another account of Samira's story is here. The postponement of her case is possibly a sign the authorities are either waiting to see which way the electoral winds are blowing, or perhaps just procedural, but it raises concerns about a further delay in justice. Samira, of course, was not the only victim; just the only one to face down the system and demand justice.

Though Samira Ibrahim, hijab-wearing Muslim victim of invasive and abusive "virginity tests," and Aliaa ElMahdy, the "Nude Blogger" and self-proclaimed atheist, would seem to be polar opposites, at least one Cairo graffiti artist has managed to link them together:

For all their differences, both these very different Egyptian women are gutsy enough to put a lot on the line, though unlike Mona ElTahawy, whose gutsy publication of the details of her own beating and sexual abuse I praised recently, they don't have a US passport to fall back on.  But Samira may be the gutsiest of all, since she's taking on SCAF and calling what the Army did to her before the courts.

Back in 1923, when Hoda Sha‘arawi stepped off the train in Cairo after a women's conference in Europe and did so without wearing her veil, she started a movement. I'm sure Hoda Sha‘arawi could not have envisioned Aliaa ElMahdy (though an Islamist might say it's a slippery slope from no veil to no clothes at all), but I'm quite sure she would have applauded Samira Ibrahim's fight. Though the hijab would surprise her. Hoda Sha‘arawi has a major street in downtown Cairo named for her. Will Samira Ibrahim? Or even, in some (quite) distant future, Aliaa ElMahdy?

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