In this blog post, addressed to other victims, a woman describes in excruciating detail her rape at the hands of a huge mob of men at a revolutionary demonstration. Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the central stage of the country’s ongoing revolution, has been the scene of numerous mob rapes and sexual assaults.
Under the previous Mubarak regime, women political activists were frequently sexually assaulted in public by pro-regime thugs. But as this anonymous young woman points out, a dangerous undercurrent of sexual violence against women is often present when large crowds gather in Egyptian cities; mob rapes are a social sickness, not merely a political expedient.
This is my story, one like many other women’s stories. It is the story of what happened to me-and what happened to you. You and I know how it was: death came near, though it didn’t arrive. You and I know that we were violated, that we were raped, in the middle of Tahrir Square, amidst the depraved crowd. Human wolves, slashing us apart, helping themselves to our most intimate parts, stripping our bodies bare: rutting violence and bestial greed, and none to save us. I was faced with death and rape just because I am a woman. In that moment, I was just a gender. Mother, sister, daughter, neighbour or friend: just a gender. On the corner of Mohammed Mahmoud Street, street of the martyrs, fount of our freedom, they stripped me of my Egyptianess, of my connection to this place.
Friday, 23rd November 2012, at 6:30 PM sharp, my friend and I went out to join the protest against the altering of the constitution. We were among the millions who came out for the same reason (and I don’t want to hear any of you ask, “why the hell did you go there in the first place?”). We circled the roundabout in the square and reached the intersection of Qasr Al Aini with Mohammed Mahmoud Street. The police started throwing teargas grenades, so everyone began running and pushing and shoving. I held my friend’s hand, but I soon lost her. The last thing I heard her say was that someone was assaulting her amidst the shoving. When I was able to see again, I couldn’t find her, but I saw a male friend of ours who was trying to escape the teargas, and I told him that she was somewhere in there being sexually assaulted. We ran to rescue her and it was then that I realized I had lost my phone.
When we found my friend, hundreds of men were surrounding her. We tried to break her free, but they pushed us back, and we fell on top of each other. Then they separated us into two circles of men; at that moment, I did not realize what was happening, did not understand, I couldn’t figure out who these people were.
All I could understand was that there were hundreds of hands, stripping me of my clothes and brutishly penetrating my body. Nowhere to escape to; all of them saying that they were protecting me, rescuing me, but what I could feel was that the circle closest to me were squeezing against my body, raping me with their fingers from the front and from behind. One was even kissing me on the mouth. And then I was totally naked and the mass of people surrounding me was pushing me into the alley next to Hardee’s restaurant. Inside this tightly enclosed circle, every time I tried to scream or to defend myself or to call for help, for someone to save me, they would become more violent and rape me more. I fell once again, into a sewage channel in front of Hardee’s, and I realized at that instant that falling again could mean my death. Since screaming was only bringing more brutality, I resolved to stay calm. I tried to remain standing, clutching to their shoulders, to the hands that were penetrating me. I fell again into the same ditch in the alley next to the restaurant, completely naked. I survived being trampled to death, finding my way to the entryway of a building. The bawwab [doorman]was at the door but refused to open. I remained trapped in this entryway for a long time, the bodies around me pressing and shoving, their hands continuing to violate me. I could see that some had climbed onto higher objects, craning to view the spectacle, to feed their sexual cravings.
I think I was cornered there for a very long time, until someone threw me a sweater. It was almost impossible for me to pull it on, because of all the bodies that were pressed against me, preventing me from dressing. But I finally succeeded in putting it on; that was when I heard a group of young men on my left, agreeing to take me somewhere else. One of them said “Okay, let’s grab her, but then take turns, guys.” Suddenly, the human mass started shoving me again, this time not in the direction of the field hospital and towards a dark husk of a building. I feared that my end would come in that building. I tried to escape into a coffeeshop on the way, but they would not let me in. Then I tried to get into an electronics shop; they not only refused to open, but one of the employees emerged and began groping me.
I lost all hope, and in my despair I resolved to ask the help of this man who was right in front of me, behind whom I was hiding my nakedness, and whose hands were abusing my backside. I asked for his mercy. I told him I was a mother – which is the truth – and that he was a gentleman and a hero, and that I chose him to protect me. I begged him to open a path for me to the field hospital.
I really don’t know what made this attacker change his mind and save me, but he suddenly pulled out his belt and started whipping everyone around him with it and screaming insanely, “I am the one who will protect her!” I don’t know what had woken his conscience, but I found myself slowly crawling towards the field hospital. There I saw two ladies and I felt that I was saved. My lower half was still naked; they threw blankets over me while the assailants tried to break into the hospital and surround me again. Someone gave me his trousers, another his cell phone, so I could call someone. I started seeing my friends attempting to break through the human mass surrounding me. With difficulty, I was able to leave the field hospital and reach the home of a friend nearby. When I finally made it to her place, the attackers still waited downstairs.
I feel I haven’t told it like it happened. The description is not as agonizing as what happened to me, and to my friend, who – as I learned later – was taken to all the way to Abdeen and was eventually saved by a woman from that neighborhood.
I feel deeply saddened and sorry for all the women who went through this, on the 25th of January 2013. This is why I decided to write this testimony, so that everyone who wants to bury their head in the sand knows that what is happening is a horrible crime that your mother, sister, daughter, friend or lover could be the victim of.
We won’t be terrorized into hiding in our houses. Sexual assault is a plague that has been widespread for years, and now the regime is using it to terrorize women and girls [into staying off the streets].
However, we all need to know realize the sexual violence is a social sickness in this country, and not only a political tool. The proof can be seen from how it happens during public holidays, at events and in crowded public spaces. I don’t know if this testimony will change anything. The assaults are continuing. But this is the least I can do.
Women of this raped country, you are its greatest asset.
Women of this raped country, you are its greatest asset. Translated from Arabic by International Boulevard
05 Mar 2013