Eid Al-Adha may be one of the biggest Muslim celebrations in the world. It is associated with sacrificing sheep, goats or cows by slaughtering them and giving part of the meat to the poor and using the remaining part to cook lavish meals for the family. In Islam, this celebration “eid” reflects what prophet Abraham did when he was going to sacrifice his son, prophet Ishmael, on God’s command. Eid Al-Adha is supposed to reflect an air of mercy and compassion with the poor who couldn’t afford to eat meat, and instill the spirit of warmth and love by gathering family members together to celebrate and eat home-cooked food. Eid Al-Adha is the longest Muslim holiday with 3-4 days off in all Muslim countries.
Enter Egyptian Eid. In Egypt, Eid is usually associated with filling the already crowded streets with celebrating citizens. People use these opportunities to go out and enjoy the stress-free vacation, away from work problems and demands of parenthood. Young girls and boys flock to cinemas, public squares and parks. Young girls however are in for a treat.
Harassers hide in every corner and every suburb, on the door of every cinema, behind the girl in every queue. Harassers grope girls’ butts and boobs, say rude remarks to girls’ faces, rip off their clothes and in some cases, gang rape the girls. Parents tell their girls not to go out there. The world is not safe anymore for girls hanging out together during Eid holiday. It’s better to wait till after Eid. Some parents strictly prohibit their daughters from going to the cinema. “Wait till after Eid,” they say. Cinemas have been known to be widely attract harassing mobs. The reason behind this -according to a broad spectrum of the Egyptian society- is the movies that these cinemas are showing.
A phenomenon of “ghetto Egyptian movies” has started ever since the mid 2000s in the Egyptian cinema industry. This new cinematic
wave aimed to shed the light on the poorer portion of the Egyptian society and show a glimpse of their daily suffering. These movies became so popular that producers almost stopped producing any other movies. Some of the movies had stories and depth but the majority were about dancing, drug dealing and sex scenes, and not even in a technical way but more like flourished, superficial grafts of the marginalized Egyptian communities. Some conservative Egyptians argue that there should be a ban on these movies. “They corrupt the society and are the main drive behind sexual harassment”. In most of these movies, women are shown as pieces of meat, that men are allowed to grab a chunk of whenever they can. Harassment is shown as an act of masculinity. The Egyptian society has always been a “macho society” with glorification of all manly deeds and moves, needless to say, it has become worse.
Egyptian writers and cinematographers argue that banning movies won’t be a solution at all to end the harassment phenomenon. In their words, censorship was never the key behind raising awareness. Making more sophisticated movies and allowing emerging directors and scriptwriters to create are the tools of fighting the deterioration of Egyptian movie making industry. Besides, acting godly by curbing freedom of expression will only make sophisticated people look like radical religious people whose idea of treating any problem is to “cut it” or “ban it”.
It can’t be only the cinema! Far from it. The “blaming the victim” mentality might be one of the worst aspects of the sexual harassment crisis. Women who get harassed are usually blamed for not being modest. Most Muslim sheikhs and clerics go as far as describing that an unveiled woman is like an unwrapped chocolate bar, thus we can’t blame flies and insects for falling on it. While veiled Muslim women are shielded from harassment and rape because they follow God’s orders and are a symbol of piety. The slogan “Hijab protects you from wolves” has become a famous warning/quote to be said to young women complaining from men molesting them in the streets. But since two thirds of the Egyptian women have been at least harassed once in their lifetime (according to The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in 2008) a huge percentage of the Egyptian women are in fact veiled, so in reality harassers don’t differentiate between a veiled and unveiled woman.
The problem arises from victims blaming themselves for the crime, believing it was their fault they were harassed in the first place. Even veiled women who are harassed blame themselves. The lack of support from the passers-by or the witnesses of the harassment help in making the harassed woman feel guilty and at times, filthy and sinful. Some people try to dissuade a woman from reporting the incident. Others show sympathy with the oppressor using words like “He’s still young,” “Take it easy on the guy,” and “He’s not married, he has his needs.” This behavior is a result of longtime oppression of the Egyptian society as well as hateful, misogynistic religious speech (mostly in mosques.
Egyptian activists have been campaigning for a law to impose harsher penalties for sexual harassment for years but nothing is official yet. The people took matters into their own hands and millions of campaigns, non-government organizations and groups have started their own war against sexual harassment. Shoft Ta7arosh “I Saw Harassment” is a pressure group that works on monitoring and documenting sexual harassment crimes against women. Recently “I Saw Harassment” released a campaign titled “Warriors Against Harassment” starting first day of Eid Al-Adha, 2013. This campaign puts male activists on the front lines to save women from being attacked and raped in the overcrowded Eid streets. The campaign aims for a safer and happier Eid for young women.
A very local campaign titled “Harass the Harasser” started this Eid in Alexandria, the large coastal Egyptian city. The campaigners were active within Alexandria’s busiest districts, centering around the grand cinemas of the Mediterranean city. The campaign depends solely on volunteers and is not funded by any civil society institutes.
So will Eid Al-Adha bring joy and peace to the lady moviegoers in the near future? Will there be no more sexual harassment orgies or rape threats? One can only wait to see the outcomes of the anti-harassment groups and campaigns. In the meanwhile, though, every female should take a positive action. Refusing to be treated as an object of obscenity is the first step. Every woman should stop acting or feeling guilty upon being harassed or raped. Religious and societal oppression, must be fought with a secular environment and constitution creating equal opportunities for men and women, regardless ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion. A law imposing penalties for hatred-fueled religious speech must also be put in consideration. As for movies and their negative portrayals of women, well I say feminist directors and playwrights, sharpen your pencils and start giving us something to enjoy as well as deeply respect.
Written by: Jaylan Salah
Sexual Harassment terror during Muslim holidays