CAIRO - It is 6 p.m. at Shohada metro station in Cairo. On the cramped platform, a group of women use their shopping bags like shields to protect themselves from wandering hands.
In Egypt, rush hour is conducive to sexual harassment, and even assault - a real plague. With a deafening screech, the train hurtles out of the tunnel, overpowering the loud hubbub of bystanders. The doors of the women-only carriage open and a man gets off. "You dog!" a woman shouts, pushing the intruder away from her. Once her headscarf is readjusted, she disappears, sheepishly, into the crowd of passengers crammed onto the platform.
Suddenly, four youths wearing yellow tabards rush toward the aggressor, grabbing him by the arm. Written across their waistcoats are the Arabic words: "Instead of harassing her, protect her!" That is Basma's slogan, a new volunteer group determined to wipe out the "virus" poisoning the everyday life of Egyptian women.
"It's time to take the bull by the horns," Nihal Saad Zaghloul says, one of the founders of Basma. This young IT technician has lost count of the number of times she has been molested or had rude comments made about her, even when she is wearing a headscarf that completely covers her hair, and her oversized, scruffy jeans. "Contrary to popular belief, girls wearing veils are just as likely to be pestered as those without them," she explains.
Blame the victim
"It's sad to say, but the majority of harassed women don't dare to complain about it, as they think no-one will help them. When a victim goes to the authorities, they blame her rather than the aggressor. They say she shouldn’t dress that way, wear make-up, or go out alone after-dark... What's worse, some police officers abuse the complainants."
And so the Basma project was born. Launched in the middle of Eid celebrations in August, it now sends mini-brigades of civilians into the busiest metro stations. "We advertised for volunteers on Facebook, which helped, and there are now 20 of us," says the young activist, on the third day of operations. Photos are already inundating the blogosphere.
A police officer joins the small group, as they try to persuade him to fine the aggressor: 15 Egyptian pounds (the equivalent of $2.50) for having been in the women's section of the train. "If the victim hadn't fled, we would have encouraged her to press charges. But, 15 pounds, that's a start..." sighs one of the young volunteers.
Some onlookers stop, dumbfounded. "Well done!" beams one Egyptian woman. Diana, 22-years-old, has had numerous run-ins on the metro. "One day, when I was on my way to work, some stranger was masturbating right in-front of me. Another time, a man rubbed himself against me in the corridor." The outcome: she is too scared to go to work and will not go out without being accompanied by her husband or a friend.
A new law against sexual harassment
Under pressure from feminist organizations, a law was created to penalize sexual harassment. However, it has still not come into effect after the dissolution of parliament last June. Nihal Saad Zaghloul admits: "Our work is only a temporary solution whilst we wait for a better one. It has, however, helped those women who put up with abuse without saying a word."
According to a study released in 2008 by the Egyptian Centre of Women's Rights, 83 percent of women surveyed said that they had been sexually harassed, of which 91 percent took place in public places such as in the metro or on the bus. According to Mohamed El Khatib, from the HarassMap organization - an NGO that has been making a census of sexual harassment and assault cases in Egypt since 2010 - a typical profile of an attacker does not exist.
"According to some people, poverty is the cause of all this, in a country steeped in tradition where sexual relations are banned before marriage and where men do not have the means to marry young. Others think it is because young men are torn between the view of veiled women in the streets and the plethora of raunchy video clips being broadcast on satellite TV. Actually, according to our research, the men who abuse women are both rich and poor, religious and secular, married and single, young and old."
The Egyptian director, Mohamed Diab in his excellent film “Cairo 678”, tackles these numerous paradoxes with verve. He paints a portrait of three victims, inspired by the true story of Noha Rushdi, the first Egyptian woman to have filed for a sexual assault complaint in 2008. At the time, her attacker was sentenced to three years in prison, as well as a fine of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (around $820).
In Zamalek, a posh neighborhood of Cairo situated on an island in the heart of the Nile, Ahmed Kadri started teaching self-defense classes several months ago. A criminology graduate and a fan of martial arts, he would rather women use these methods to protect themselves from potential aggressors and to flee as quickly as possible instead of using knives, pepper spray, Tasers and other weapons that are being increasingly used by Egyptian women. "There's now a real demand for these types of techniques. Women are starting to realize that if they are in control, they are less likely to be hassled."
A new war on women
In Egypt, foreigners also feel vulnerable, especially since Mubarak lost power, when many women were victims of gang rapes during the revolution. There have been dozens of similar – and horrifying - incidents since the assault on the CBS journalist Lara Logan, in February 2011, by between 200 to 300 men. On June 8, Egyptian women protesting against sexual harassment were violently attacked.
Each time, it is the same scenario: a pack of hounds choose their "prey" amid the crowd, throw themselves at her, tear her clothes off... Disgusted by this "barbaric and brutish practice," activist Nevine Ebeid, a member of the New Women Foundation, believes there are certain political powers intent on "breaking women's determination and discouraging them from protesting."
"I think these attacks are organized, either by the members of the old regime or by conservative groups who don't want Egyptian women to become emancipated. However, there is no evidence and therefore it's difficult to accuse anyone," she says.
It is not a new phenomenon. In 2006, a gang of men attacked several women in the center of the capital during Eid celebrations and the affair was quickly covered up by the Mubarak regime.
"But the revolution did give us a voice," Norhan Alaan, 21, admits. This sculptor and student at Cairo's Faculty of Fine Arts, is one of many Egyptian women who are now coming out to speak about sexual abuse.
This summer, the art gallery Darb 1718 offered her the possibility to exhibit her artwork next to half a dozen other artists, on the theme of "Enough!" Her installation is inspired by the testimonies of 40 victims, speaking under anonymity. The extracts of their tragic episodes are projected, black on white, on a screen next to a life-size mannequin completely covered in pins. "To my great surprise, many men are coming to the exhibit. For a lot of them, it's their first time that they have been confronted with real accounts as women can rarely speak about these things, even with their friends of family. If it can awaken people's consciences, then it's already a mini-success."
Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.
[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]
🌎 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.
• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.
• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.
• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.
• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.
• Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.
• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.
🗞️ FRONT PAGE
"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.
#️⃣ BY THE NUMBERS
A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.
📰 STORY OF THE DAY
How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."
— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.
🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS
Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger
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