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.
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“It’s normal – people here really like to laugh, so it’s OK,” says one man.Skip to next paragraph
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“See that girl?” asks another man, Ahmed Mahfouz. He points to a woman with flowing black hair, wearing a short-sleeve shirt. “We’d yell out to her because she likes the attention. That’s why she dresses like that.”
But farther down the street Abdel Azim admits that it's not just the less conservatively dressed women who get unwanted attention.
“Usually we hassle the girls who dress inappropriately,” he says. “And veiled girls who are extremely beautiful – then we can’t help it.”
Anter says men wouldn’t harass women so much if they could get married younger, though activists denounce that as an unacceptable excuse. Local tradition requires that men have an average of 15,000 Egyptian pounds (about $2,500) before formally asking a woman’s hand in marriage. The 25-year-old, who works two jobs, has been unofficially engaged for more than two years. He still doesn’t have enough money to get married.
“Egyptians are conservative,” says Fatma Emam, a research associate at women’s rights organization Nazra, “so people don’t get involved in sexual relations until they are married. They find sexual harassment a way to express their sexual frustration.”
Mr. Azim says delayed marriage is one of the reasons for harassment, but explains that married men harass women too. He does it only when his wife isn’t looking.
Anter gets a disappointing phone call
Activist and feminist Nawal El Sadaawy, who has fought for Egyptian women’s rights for decades, suggests that sexual harassment is part of a broader oppression of women in Egyptian society.
“We are oppressed by the patriarchal class system… . We are oppressed by power – military power, class oppression, and money," she says. "So we have to connect harassment to political and economic harassment.”
She says the toppling of Mubarak was the first step in effecting change for women.
But lasting change – whether political or social – will likely take many years. One draws parallels to an argument made by writer Frantz Fanon, who believed women's participation in the Algerian Revolution would change social relations forever. “And of course he was 100 percent wrong,” says Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “As soon as the war was over, things went exactly to the way they were.”
Back on one of downtown’s dusty streets, as the evening grew late, Anter's phone rang. “My fiancée just called and broke off our engagement,” he says, his eyes heavy. “Her family is tired of waiting.”