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Feminist Movements Continue to Battle Culture of Impunity in Egypt

Mozn Hassan

NEW DELHI, India, Jan 25 2021 (IPS) - Ten years ago on this day, January 25, one of the biggest revolutions in the world took place in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, as protestors poured into the streets chanting slogans of “Bread, Freedom and Social Justice”, demanding one of the region’s longest-serving and autocratic President Hosni Mubarak to step down. Three weeks later, on February 11th, Mubarak stepped down as president, leaving the Egyptian military in control of the country.

Amnesty International in a statement said, several female protestors at Tahrir Square were taken into military custody on March 9th, 2011 – the day after International Women’s Day – and subjected to grave torture, including being beaten, prodded with electric shock batons, subjected to strip searches and forced to submit to ‘virginity tests’ and threatened with prostitution.

Major General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), said that “‘virginity tests’ had been carried out on female detainees in March to “protect” the army against possible allegations of rape”.

When the administrative court issued a ruling against this practise and called it illegal, a military court acquitted the physician who performed these tests, sending out a clear message of impunity.

A decade after the January 25th Revolution in Egypt, the country continues to thrive on this culture of impunity. A 2013 United Nations study found that nearly all Egyptian women – 99 percent of those surveyed has been victims of sexual harassment. Egypt has continued to deny accusations of these grave human rights violations and sexual violence. In 2020, Rights groups estimated some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, including activist, journalists and lawyers

Mozn Hassan, one of Egypt’s most outspoken voices on human rights, founder and Executive Director of Nazra for Feminist Studies has been working on building an Egyptian feminist movement and support women human rights defenders through legal and psychological intervention in the country much before the Egyptial revolution took place in 2011.

Nazra for Feminist Studies was established in 2005 in Cairo, where it continued building the feminist movement in Egypt and the MENA region.“We are losing everyday, but the feminist movement in Egypt is not a failed movement,” says Mozn Hassan to IPS News.

“Being an independent feminist voice can cost you a lot, targeting by state actors, asset freeze, travel ban, charges of supporting women to have “irreponsible liberty”, or facing threats of charges that could bring you to life time in prisons, are just a few examples,” said Mozn.

Since June 2016 a travel ban has been imposed on Mozn Hassan, following previous incidents of jucidial harassment against Nazra for Feminist Studies, including summons in relation to foreign funding case. In January 2017, Cairo Criminal Court ruled to freeze assets of Mozn Hassan and her non-government organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. Last year in July 2020, the Criminal Court of North Cairo rejected the appeal of the travel ban, later postponing the review of a request to cancel this ban.

“What is happening to Nazra is a clear example of how patriarchal and conserverative individuals cannot accept feminism and feminist acts. I am only one amongst other human rights defenders who has been charged for supporting women to have ‘irresponsible liberty’.

“We have seen different types of pain, loss and grief. We saw systematic sexual assaults; we are seeing friends celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution in jail in the time of Covid-19. At the same time, we are also seeing women’s movements struggling and fighting to have rights, something that has never happened in the Egyptian constitution,” says Mozn.

In November 2019 United Nations member countries at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva criticised Egypts human rights crisis and called on to end torture and ill-treatment, investigate crimes comitted by security forces, allow non governmental organizations and activists to work independently, and protect human rights while countering terrorism.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and several UN experts have repeatedly condemned abuses in Egypt. Several countries have also urged Egypt to make serious measures to halt violations against women.

“Being an activist is hard, being a feminist is harder and being a person who is not part of a social gang, even harder in Egypt. It really is a choice,” says Mozn.

A decade after the revolution in Egypt that overthrew the long-time dictator, what followed the country was economic collapse, job losses, deteriorating human rights conditions, brutal military dictatorship, failing public healthcare systems, and extreme poverty. The committee to Protect Journalists ranked Egypt third, behind China and Turkey, in detaining journalists.

The only way to continue is to understand why we are doing what we do, to continue believing in what is right, says Mozn. “We are gaining support from people, there are small changes but without the process of freedom and democracy in place, the costs will always be higher than gains. We need a holistic vision compiled with political will to move forward.”

“Solidarity is the secret that makes us continue doing our work, and heal from those who want to stop us. Solidarity has been the key aspect of our resilience at Nazra and for me personally as well,” says Mozn.

Sania Farooqui is a journalist and filmmaker based out of New Delhi. She hosts a weekly online show called The Sania Farooqui Show where Muslim women from around the world are invited to share their views.


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