Arab Women in Revolution: Reports from the Ground

Part: 18

Cairo Women Stunned by Male Harassment at Protest

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Women's rights organizers in Cairo suffered a setback on International Women's Day on March 8. Instead of holding a large rally in Tahrir Square, they were beaten back by hundreds of antagonistic men.

CAIRO, Egypt (WOMENSENEWS)--Some women's rights organizers here were hoping to mark International Women's Day with a thousand-strong rally in the heart of downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Instead, less than a 100 showed up and those who did spent just over two hours being harassed and insulted in the very square they helped liberate.

Doing their best to ignore the taunts, several small groups of women clung to colorful signs with slogans in English and Arabic.

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"I'd like to be able to walk down the streets, free of fear, free of judgment and that's it," said Rehaam Romero, a 23-year-old copy editor. She held a sign with the words "Equality, Education and Empowerment" and a hand-drawn Egyptian flag.

But her enthusiasm quickly faded after arriving in Tahrir Square, where she found hundreds of men crowding women holding signs and chanting for the women to leave.

"I've never been as afraid as I am now in all my years in Egypt," she said, watching men deride women standing nearby and yell: "The people want to bring women down!"

Even the most stalwart participants left after the military fired shots into the air to break up a fight at the edge of the square and almost caused a stampede.

Many activists on Twitter claim that the rally was deliberately targeted by thugs and regime loyalists that were also reportedly causing mischief at Coptic protests held throughout the capital on Tuesday.

Disappointment for Organizers

Whatever the cause, the events were a disappointment for organizers.

In an interview with Women's eNews before the march, Aalam Wassef, one of the event's organizers from Women 4 Democracy, said the demonstration symbolized the "New Egypt" his group hoped to form in the wake of former President Hosni Mubarak's three-decade reign.

"During the revolution, we witnessed an amazing sense of unity among the young and old, the rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, but there was something that happened that no one put into words, that men and women had joined together for their freedom," said Wassef, who is also a co-founder of the group, which was established during the revolution.

Wassef described the organization as a collective, without leadership or a set of rigid demands, much like the revolution itself. Its goal is to bring democracy to Egypt, which Wassef believes will herald positive change for women because democracy inherently protects the rights of individuals.

Most important, Women 4 Democracy wants to help ensure the people who brought down the regime have a voice in the new government as well as any constitutional amendments. He said Egyptians are in a unique position to keep the pressure on Egypt's transitional government and military council, both of whom have promised to usher in a nation free of emergency rule and oppression.

"Women's voices were very powerful all through the revolution. So (our march) is not a separate movement from the revolution. It's the continuation of what started on Jan. 25," he added. Several of the online bloggers, Tweeters, journalists and activists behind the first protests were women.

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