June 18, 2015
CAIRO â€" The two large banners being held by a group of 15 young women outside Cairo University read: "We have given up our feminine clothes for the military uniform."
They chant, "Listen to me: I'm not awra," referring to the parts of the body that must be covered according to Islam. "I carried the revolution on my shoulders. Our president, our president, let our girls join our army."
The women are members of the Moganada Masriya campaign, which champions female conscription, and are making one of their first public appearances. Some are wearing camouflage pants and combat boots with camouflage-print caps mounted atop high buns covered in beige-colored headscarves.
Not all of them look the part, but they are all calling for the same thing: to allow women to join Egypt's Armed Forces.
Photo: Jihad Elkomy/Facebook
The campaign was first born out of the military frenzy that accompanied the July 3, 2013, toppling of former President Mohamed Morsi under the leadership of then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But it has recently picked up steam again as group members intensify their efforts and continue to garner support from state institutions.
"The events of July 3, 2013, fueled all of us," says member Shahd Hussein.
Similarly, her colleague Shahinaz Gamal explains that "the recent events are the biggest motivator. Our lives are for Egypt, and we are all hoping for martyrdom."
Love for the country and the military is also the main motive for campaign founder Jihad al-Komy, though she also cites frustration with the gender segregation that excludes her and other women from the front lines.
A lifelong dream
Komy is a serious-looking young woman in her early twenties with long, black hair who, unlike the majority of the campaign's members, wears it uncovered.
"The reason for founding the campaign was out of my love for the nation and my deep belonging to the military,"she says. "I have always hoped to earn the honor of conscription from when I was young."
Komy believes that women need to join the fight. "The current circumstances are the biggest motivation for conscription, especially in light of terrorist groups using women in their operations," she says. "The same way there are male terrorists, there are also female terrorists, and therefore there should be female conscripts."
But there is also some gender equality logic in the campaign. Komy doesn't understand why she's unable to fulfill her lifelong dream, even though several other countries around the world allow women to enlist. "The Egyptian woman has proven herself throughout history â€" from the days of the Prophet until the French occupation," she argues.
Hussein, who has been a campaign member for six months, also says that it has been a long-held dream to join the military. "I was so happy to learn of this campaign, and it was the happiest day of my life when I joined," she says. "I feel as though the dream and the goal are so near."
Gamal even attempted to apply for a position in the army, but was rejected, she says, because it only accepts women from fields such as nursing, nutrition and psychology.
The campaign has enjoyed initial support from various state institutions. For one, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb called on the group's leader in Gharbiya to join him on a tour of the governorate, Komy says.
It's the second time the prime minister has reached out to the campaign. In February, a small number of members were invited to meet with Mehleb, then-Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and Armed Forces Recruitment Director Mohie al-Din Abdel Alim. The meeting was arranged by order of the president himself after he had received several letters from the campaign, whose ultimate goal is to meet with their idol, Sisi. Even before his ascent to the presidency, he repeatedly sought to express his special regard for the women of Egypt.
Komy says the group has only accomplished 70% of its goals by meeting with government officials and getting their support. It has yet to organize a sit-down meeting with Sisi himself. But she stresses that Mehleb reassured her that her group's file is on the president's desk.
Mainstream nods, detractors too
The campaign also recently received an endorsement from the National Council for Women. Council head Mervat al-Talawy announced May 15 that she supports the movement, and is working toward helping its members achieve their goal.
Thanks to publicity on its Facebook page as well as public outreach, the campaign has obtained 20,000 signatures on a petition to allow female conscripts, to allow women in the military to receive weapons training, and to establish military academies for women. The campaign is also in the process of negotiating a protocol with the Education Ministry to allow for it to organize awareness-raising campaigns.
But despite the state's endorsement, the campaign has its fair share of conservative detractors, which has forced the issue of marginalized gender dynamics into the conversation.
According to campaign member Hussein, the group often receives insults taunting them with sexist statements. These messages have even escalated to death threats, she says, particularly against the group's founder. Komy says she receives threats against her and her family, and has had her phone number and address shared publicly.
One thread on the campaign's Facebook page has a first lieutenant from the Armed Forces arguing that the military should remain for men only, accusing these women of trying to ruin the country. A campaign member fired back by saying that men often dread their military conscription and hope for any excuse to be exempt and that therefore women are more worthy. The comment points to the numerous violations Egyptian conscripts face during their service, which many soldiers have cited, but the campaign's enthusiastic women overlook these injustices.
Dalia Abdel Hameed, a gender and women's rights officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), poses a different kind of critique. She finds their desire to enlist paradoxical, given the rise of gender-based violence amid the country's increased militarization. She also points to the military's gendered violence such as the virginity tests conducted on female protesters in March 2011.
"The majority of military organizations are male-dominated and patriarchal, and encourage violence, which are all anti-feminist values," Hameed says. She finds it "frightening" that a large group of women are calling for the conscription of female soldiers rather than for ending forced conscription in general.
"There is a direction among feminists for demilitarization," Hameed adds.
But despite these criticisms, Komy remains optimistic. "Once they see a female conscript, they will be proud of her."
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food / travel
With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.
Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson
October 26, 2021
When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.
And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.
Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan
The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan
According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.
In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.
The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.
Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.
View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA
Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!
The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.
Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.
Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain
Old Belchite, Spain
Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…
That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.
Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.
If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.
Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan
Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan
The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.
The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.
Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."
Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.
Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden
The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden
After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).
Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.
Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia
Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia
During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.
Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.
Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy
Poveglia Island, Italy
Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).
During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.
In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.
Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.
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