Two years ago, during the arab spring, women who’d been arrested for protesting in Tahrir square were forced to undergo virginity tests administered by the army. One year ago, Egypt’s army chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi attempted to justify the tests by claiming they were a way of protecting the women from being rape, and the men from being accused of rape.
Another year gone by, and Tahrir square is full again. This time, Sisi is attempting to make his characterization of his motives true. Today, in response to an astoundingly high number of rapes committed in the midst of the protests, the army has cordoned off a circle, in the middle of Tahrir square where women can demonstrate without being at risk of being raped.
The risk is very real – nearly a hundred women were raped in Tahrir square this week alone. However much of a lie Sisi’s after the fact explanation of the virginity tests may have been – and even if it was his intention to protect – the harm he caused by inflicting these so called tests on women prisoners and publicizing their results to the public and their family seems to outdo the potential benefits he’d intended by far.
On the one hand it’s great to see some effort being made to help women participate, but on the other it’s absolutely appalling that the reason they would need help is that men will rape them otherwise, and ever so slightly worrying that those who are protecting them are those who were responsible for the virginity tests two years ago. But also, looking at what is happening right now, it is not clear that there are still many women in the middle of Tahrir square, nor that the army, busy as it is with intervention, still has the resources to protect them.
Thanks to S.J.B. for the links and suggestions!