May 24, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Revolution One Year Later
Posted on Jan 31, 2012
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about a subdued Egypt marking the first anniversary of the revolution.
CAIRO—Sunday was the first day of voting for the upper house of the Egyptian parliament. Only 2 percent of those eligible voted, very different from the enthusiastic post-revolutionary 70 percent voter turnout for the lower house, a December election that gave a landslide majority to Islamist parties. Friends of mine said they were the only ones in the voting station.
People in my neighborhood who voted for the first time in the last round told me they did not even know what the upper house of parliament was. They had never heard of any of the candidates, and they had done it once, that’s enough, they didn’t care, it didn’t matter.
Jan. 25 was the anniversary of the revolution and was officially declared National Day or Revolution Day, replacing the previous National Revolution Day, July 23. The celebration brought hundreds of thousands from all walks of life to Tahrir Square. Many arrived as part of marches from all areas of Cairo, crowds so vast they seemed without end. I and some friends took the metro, in which a group of young people entertained the crowded car with revolutionary rap; all the passengers joined in on the refrains. We arrived to a mass of people so densely packed we could barely advance toward the square. There was a predominance of bearded Salafi men and covered women, many with small children on their shoulders.
As the newly elected parliament met for the first time, in the square Quranic verses were recited from stages and religious music was played between confident, self-praising affirmations of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi members who now dominated the platforms of Tahrir as well as the parliamentary meeting itself. In fact the overall tone of Tahrir Square on Jan. 25 was religious, calm and … somehow disappointingly … passive.
We left with a feeling of disappointment.
One of the few disturbing stories of the day concerned a girl who revealed her blond hair—like a beacon to moths in the night crowd of hundreds of thousands of sexually frustrated Egyptian men, some of them exposed to sexual images only through foreign movies and Western porn. She was attacked, and several men reportedly were hurt in saving her from the worst of the groping swarm.
U.S. and European embassies all have sent out warnings to foreign visitors, and the newspapers have reported earlier incidents of this sort, but some Western women still fail to do what is necessary to protect themselves in Egypt.
Sexual assault is a big problem for women here. The Egyptian people are horrified by the abuse that some men inflict, but there are divisions over how to deal with the issue. The Salafi [fundamentalist] idea is to restrict the behavior, clothing and activities of all domestic and foreign women, as in Saudi Arabia, where women are obligated to cover themselves almost completely so as not to excite the sexual urge in men. Pornography and other images of uncovered women are illegal, as is alcohol. All stores, restaurants, schools and cafes have separate areas for men and women. Bathing suits cover from neck to wrist to ankle, and beaches for men and women are separate, with high walls between.
Tourism, a major source of revenue for Egypt, floundering since the revolution, would collapse further if the Saudi approach was implemented in this nation. Also, the majority of the population, even if they do generally observe Shariah law, would not like to have their personal lives patrolled by the “morality police.”
One proposal for easing the problem is to make the financial requirements for marriage less onerous, so that young people can marry and legitimately engage in connubial relations, thus eliminating a good part of the sexual frustration.
Outcries against isolated crimes since the beginning of the revolution have created the illusion of post-revolutionary anarchy, which is not the case. Crime has not increased. Public crowds are greater now, and as the opportunity for sexual harassment presents itself, these crimes will happen in larger numbers.
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