“Yeah, we did it.”

Caitlin McDonald

894363881 300x210 “Yeah, we did it.”

Sexual assault and rape are well-documented weapons in situations of armed conflict. They also feature as a control technique deployed by many totalitarian regimes. This includes the newly overthrown Egyptian government, in which the sexual violation of both male and female political dissidents was actively encouraged. The current government, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) appears to be following in Mubarak’s footsteps. Or rather, there is none to check their systematic sexual abuses now that they are in charge of the Egyptian state.

The ‘virginity testing’ of young female protesters in Cairo can be seen in no other light than a deliberate sexual violation. There is no legitimate medical procedure that can confirm whether or not a person, male or female, is a virgin. In Egypt and in many countries that place a high premium on virginity at marriage, though, it is widely believed that such an examination is not only possible, but often a necessary part of prenuptial proceedings. Even given the widespread belief in the ‘virginity test’ in Egypt, the rationale for submitting these young women to such a test is frankly bizarre.

Until recently the SCAF categorically denied the allegations of ‘virginity testing’ and other abuses of protestors arrested on 9 March. In fact, despite one general’s anonymous defense of the ‘virginity tests,’ which he says did take place, SCAF continues to deny it through its teeth.

The anonymous general, interviewed by journalist Shahira Amin, made his thoughts on the need for such tests clear. At least, it is clear that he thinks such tests are justified. I fail to follow his reasoning. “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs). We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place. None of them were (virgins).”

What a Molotov cocktail has to do with virginity, I’m sure I don’t know. I am disturbed (if not surprised) by his suggestion that if a woman is not a virgin, her allegations of sexual assault could not possibly be taken seriously. I wonder if the general would have the temerity to say this to his mother.

Regardless of whether the general genuinely believes in the concept of ‘virginity testing’, it is very clear from descriptions of how such tests were carried out that the intention of the testing was to degrade, humiliate, frighten and possibly even take revenge on the women. Revenge for trying to remind the nation that women too want a voice in the reforms, that they too stood in protest in the previous days and months. They too strove to bring down the regime.

Without the support of the whole population, the culture of misogyny and harassment faced daily by women in Egypt is unlikely to stop in the long run. The ‘virginity tests’ are a particularly disturbing symptom of this problem. But there is always a flicker of hope. The fact that women are not remaining silent about their treatment, but insistently reminding their country that this is not what they meant when they protested for change, gives me hope that change might still be in the air for the women of Egypt.

  • Amanda Ross

    SOME muslim men use islam to disempower women. and SOME christian men do the same, as do SOME jewish men, etc, etc.

    i know muslim-bashing is currently fashionable, but all religions can be used as vehicles for oppression. have been in the past, and are now.  imho, the problem is not with islam in particular, but with religion and opression.

  • stonedwolf

    Some? If only. Go work in the Middle East for stint and tell me it’s only
    “some”. Egypt, for example, has a circumcision rate for females of over 90%.
    That’s not “some”. That’s an entire society. And Egypt is relatively forward
    looking and Western.

    There is a very great deal wrong with religious Islam – anything that sticks
    to the Koran is going to be demented and dangerous. You only have to read
    the Koran to know anyone believing it is going to have severe mental-health
    issues with non-Muslims, let alone apostates. The same applies equally to
    religious Judaism too. Oppression, bigotry, and racism, are not incidental
    to that scripture – they are core to it.

  • stonedwolf

    This is Egypt we’re talking about – a country where FGM is rife.

  • stonedwolf

    He’s a great warrior? 

    I thought he was an Egyptian general.

  • stonedwolf

    Hang on. How can not being a virgin prevent you being raped by a jailer? Why the “scare quotes” around “ladies”? (Three times at that). What “coffee” do you drink that you think virginity tests are taking place in British jails?

    You make take your name from Macbeth, but there is more of Saladin than Shakespeare in you. 

    That, and not a little mental illness.

  • Amanda Ross

    stonedwolf, im half-egyptian and have lived and worked there. unlike you, obviously.

    yes, there is still a lot of female circumcision in the countryside in egypt sadly, but i know about 30 egyptian women very well personally (close friends and relatives) and none of them is circumcised.  though that has nothing to do with islam.

    there is no ‘non-religious’ islam, lol, its all religious. yes, the quran is dangerous (in the wrong hands) and demented. so is the bible. so is the kabbalah. there are literally millions of muslims who are religious and believe in the quran without having any problem at all with people of other faiths. just as there are christians who read the bible without following all the dumb garbage in it.

    ive never been congratulated on as many christian holidays as i was living in egypt (where they assumed i was christian because i look ‘foreign’). muslims there go out of their way to find out when palm sunday is, and various saints’ days ive never even heard of, then wish christians joy of them.  when did you last tell a muslim, “eid mubarak”, oh ‘religiously-tolerant’ christian.

    youre clearly a christian, since you seem to think islam and judaism are mental, whereas the bible’s clearly very logical and sensible [rolls eyes].

    can i gently remind you – and everyone else with ‘jihad-a-phobia’ – that the only christian/muslim wars have been started by the christians, from the crusades to iraq.  just because someone wears a black teatowel on their head, theyre not darth vadar.  cut the hysteria, sheesh. sigh.

  • stonedwolf

    FGM certainly pre-dates Islam, as do the various head-scarves/balaclavas,
    but each of them are now adopted into Islam for many Muslims. You shouldn’t
    deny the crucifix is a Christian symbol, but it was not thought of one at
    the time of Christ – the fish was.

    And of course there is non-religious Islam. There is social Islam, political
    Islam, cultural Islam. One of my friends is a Dutch Muslim of Pakistani
    origin, as he would describe himself. He drinks. He smokes. He takes drugs.
    He sleeps around. And he does not believe in god. But he will get married
    within the confines of his faith – etc. – not because he believes in it but
    because all his family are so immersed in it. To him Islam is not a religion
    but the cultural institution he was born into. In exactly the same way I
    have Jewish friends who see no irony whatsoever when they declare themselves

    PS I am clearly Christian am I? Blimey. I am atheist, as you would call me,
    or “rational” as I put it. I compared the totalitarian theology of Islam and
    Judaism as they are each scripturally absolutist. I left out Christianity
    because the New Testament, at least arguably during the period of
    JC’s lecturing, is not scripturally absolutist in the way Islam’s and
    Judaism’s scriptures are, at least from my reading. An absolutist would have
    killed the adulterous woman.

    However, in terms of mental illness, believing in fictional characters is
    equally mentally unhinged be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or Scientologist.

    Also, it is an absolute lie to pretend all of the Islamic/Christian wars
    were started by the Christians. That’s just plain head-bonkers, m’lady. The
    genocidal sweep over North Africa? The invasion and rape of Spain? The
    attempted invasion of East Europe? Of course Christians start wars – but so
    to do Muslims and you’ve been listening to some really weirdo clerics if you
    think the evidence is otherwise.

  • Katie Shapland

    I appreciate the sentiment of your post, stonedwolf, but please use the term ‘genital mutilation’ instead of ‘circumcision’, as many people in the west confuse this with male circumcision, where the foreskin of the penis is removed. This is not even similar. More like removing the entire head of the penis. And some.

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