A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, November 26, 2011

On the Beating and Sexual Abuse of Mona ElTahawy

I was going to post this yesterday but my original version was too angry and profane. I'm going to try to do this more calmly. The subject is still adult and some of the Twitter posts in screen caps need a language warning.

We all know, sadly, that in the midst of Egypt's revolutionary fervor, there has also been a horrific pattern of abuse of women. The horrors of the "virginity tests" "conducted" on women protesters in the Egyptian Museum last spring remain the most notorious case, since these "virginity tests" are usually known by rather cruder names involving the word "finger," and were inflicted by members of the Egyptian Armed Forces. When the hue and cry were in full cry over Aliaa ElMahdy's nude photos recently, one commenter noted on Twitter:

Egyptian feminists have done much to publicize the prevalence of sexual harassment in the Egyptian street (83% of Egyptian women say they've experienced it), and the sexual assault on CBS reporter Lara Logan on the night Husni Mubarak was toppled (though conducted by thugs in the street, not under official auspices), drew much Western attention, though of course Egyptian women did not find it that unusual. In this week's troubles two Western female reporters have claimed sexual assaults while reporting in Egypt; French reporter Caroline Sinz was attacked by a mob of young people and sexually molested; and the well-known Egyptian-American columnist, feminist and author on women's issues Mona ElTahawy was arrested and abused by Central Security Forces troops inside the Interior Ministry. Since Mona ElTahawy is both a dual citizen and has an international audience, this is creating lots of bad (and fully deserved) press for Egyptian authorities. It's hard to imagine someone they could have beaten and sexually abused who could do them more harm: A Muslim Egyptian feminist journalist with an international audience. And they deserve every bit of opprobrium they get, not just for what was done to Mona ElTahawy, a high-profile person with a US Passport, but to the victims of the "virginity tests" whose voices we will never hear and who are told by their society that they should blame themselves. She came out of it with a broken hand and a broken arm, and she's telling the world about it:

The abuse was inflicted by young members of the Central Security Forces. Eventually the Ministry of the Interior transferred her to Military Intelligence, where she has made clear there was no abuse, just hours of interrogation. She was held for some 12 hours, with her injuries untreated.

I suspect it's no longer "journalism" that should be called the "first draft of history," Twitter is. Her description gives a real-time sense of the nightmare, though this is not for the timid. Mona tweeted her own arrest and beating before losing her phone:

After her release she described what happened with obvious anger. Strong language warning here, though clearly justified, even mild, under the circumstances.

And finally, after the fact (language warning again):

I, for one, am looking forward to it. I think they finally [messed] [okay, fucked] with the wrong Egyptian woman.

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