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Egyptian men explain their relentless catcalls

Many thought Egypt's pervasive sexual harassment had ebbed when men and women rallied side by side for revolution. But old habits have returned.

By Sarah LynchCorrespondent / June 24, 2011

An Egyptian female protester, second right, argues with a man as hundreds of women marched to Cairo's central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, 2011. A protest by hundreds of Egyptian women demanding an end to sexual harassment and equal rights has turned violent when men verbally abused and shoved the demonstrators.

AP

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Cairo

Mohammad Anter hands out flyers to evening crowds on a packed Cairo street, trying to catch the attention of any passerby – until one catches his.

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“Hey, hot chic!” he yells. “You have beautiful eyes!” Mr. Anter is a computer science student and salesman at a small shop here; he is one of Cairo’s many casual harassers.

“We’re an Eastern culture, so it’s all right for me to yell out – when I’m attracted to someone, I do it,” he says, surrounded by fluorescent store lights and shoppers in every direction.

Anter is not alone: The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights found in a 2008 study that 83 percent of women are sexually harassed and roughly half of Egypt's women experience such treatment on a daily basis.

Many thought that men like Anter had changed during Egypt's uprising five months ago. When hundreds of thousands converged on Tahrir Square in a collective effort to oust President Hosni Mubarak, men and women stood side by side in unified protests with few instances of sexual harassment.

But while activists say the revolution was a step in the right direction, the popular demand for greater freedom has not necessarily brought a greater recognition of women's rights or reprieve from harassment.

"Just because Mubarak stepped down doesn’t make people anymore educated or aware of how to behave appropriately and respectfully,” says Amy Mowafi, editor of an Egyptian women’s magazine called Enigma.

Activists are seeking to make people more aware, however, most recently with a June 20 Twitter campaign under the hashtag #endSH. Offline, Nazra for Feminist Studies is working on building a grassroots feminist movement. And in early June, an Egyptian women’s Charter was released with half a million signatures of people calling for women’s social and political representation and equal economic and legal rights.

Men blame delayed marriages, inappropriate clothing

Down the street from Anter, a group of young men guarding their carts of colored T-shirts say they didn’t have time to think about hassling women during Egypt's 18-day uprising; they were concerned with political aims. Now they’re back to their monotonous jobs and catcalling is a way to pass the time and make casual jokes.

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