Farah El-Akkad followed the social movements that were born in Tahrir
Tahrir Square is a place affiliated with bitter sweet memories. From the girl who was dragged and stripped, to the sheikh they killed, to the smiling martyr, dozens of initiatives and acts of kindness have flourished to ease the pain and keep the memory alive.
Two years later, the Tahrir spirit lives on to create endless social initiatives and movements that holds the essence of the Egyptian culture of solidarity.
During the 18 days of Egypt’s unfinished revolution, many support movements ascended and continuously sustained the power of Tahrir throughout the course of events that followed. No one can remember the revolution without shedding light on those who unconditionally supported Tahrir Square, from doctors in field hospitals to Tahrir security which set up human shields around the square and were always ready to protect those inside.
Tahrir Supplies is one of the movements which took the lead in constantly providing Tahrir field hospitals with all medicines and necessities through Twitter. The initiative, run by four young adults, was first thought of as a helping hand to those in Tahrir “but would at most help an injured person or prevent another from dying” as Ahmed Abul-Hassan, one of the leaders made it known. “We were surprised when our followers increased by the thousands on the first day, actually reaching 11,000 within the first 24 hours,” Abul-Hassan recounted in an interview. Tahrir Supplies’ strategy was to help deliver the message of field hospitals to people all around Egypt, in order for them to lend a hand.
In addition to being a success, Tahrir Supplies now has its own website tahrirsupplies.com which gives activists greater access to providing support to those in need including many other activities such as how to donate blood. As a group Tahrir Supplies has one sole purpose, which is to deliver 24/7 information to provide hospitals around Egypt with everything they need. Nada Sherif, an activist who was injured during the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, wrote, “I nearly died today but my life was saved, thanks to God & @TahrirSupplies”.
On the other hand, TahrirBodyGuards, a group of young men, fought harassers in a very different way, making it their duty to catch the offender and simply stamp the words ‘I am a Harasser’ on their t-shirts. Sohail Ismail, an activist who recently joined the group, tells us “The idea is simple but extremely affective”. Ismail explains that the psychological effect of the act is more successful than merely getting into a fight with the harasser, because the act of being labelled makes him feel “discarded” and put to shame by society. In the long term, he will realise the wrong he has committed.
Noha Ahmed, a feminist activist, believes this is not enough. She clarifies that we should set up many more awareness campaigns on how to deal with sexual assaults. Ahmed initiated the cause “Stop Sexual Harassment” on Facebook after many attacks were reported during protests. The initiative intended to establish a common base of youth activists to confront sexual harassment against women not only in Tahrir but in the surrounding areas as well and in fact “throughout Egypt”, adds Ahmed. Though the initiative was welcomed by many young activists, it did not result in “the change we were hoping for”; women were still getting assaulted in Tahrir.
Ahmed tells us about another initiative called “HarrasMap”, a simple SMS based system “which allows victims and witnesses to secretly report sexual harassment incidents as soon as they happen. @RebbacaChiao, the co-founder, an American who moved to Egypt, explained the victim only needs to dial 6069 and a minute later will get an auto response. When many reports are reported in the same area “sexual harassment hotspots are identified” which enables “HarrasMap” to validate the reports and put them on a Google map of Egypt, “creating a web-based documentation of the extent of the problem” Chiao said.
Unfortunately, women in Tahrir were not only harassed by ignorant mobs, but were attacked by military and police forces as well. The uprising against sexual harassment was ignited after the famous scene of a girl being beaten, dragged and stripped by a military soldier in December 2011, a scene which took us back to the brutal practices of Mubarak’s regime against civilians, particularly women. Massive demonstrations took place afterwards with many women activists and feminists demanding the detention of military soldiers involved in the incident and shouting out, “Egyptian women are a red line!”
Another flame was lit in September 2012 after an anti-sexual harassment protest was assaulted by a mob of hundreds of men. The protest led by many female activists, was demanding the end of sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt. Having been there, Ahmed sorrowfully recalls, “it was devastating to see women subjected to such violent obscene behaviour from utterly ignorant people who see women as nothing but objects”. Sally Zohni, one of the organisers of the event, wrote on Twitter, “After what I saw and heard today, I am furious at so many things. Why beat a girl and strip her? Why?”
Many proposals were suggested by activists to tackle sexual harassment in Tahrir such as “Tahrir Watchtowers” which gave volunteers more access to detect harassment and inform volunteers on the ground to step in. Somaya Adli, a female volunteer, reveals how she was rescued through this method. She recounts, “A person was verbally harassing me, and activists in Watchtowers were able to find him before he did anything physical. He was instantly kicked out of the square.” Adli believes Watchtowers succeeded in limiting physical assaults.
In late September 2012, after the assault on the anti-sexual harassment protest, many young activists including TahrirBodyGuards and Op/Anti-Sexual Harassment movements met human rights activists to organise awareness campaigns against sexual harassment. Hossam Alddin, one of the organizers, describes how women and young girls talk to each other about the issue and learn from girls who had experience with assaults. “We wanted women to share their experiences and explain to each other how it happened, because no one can put us in the picture as well as those who actually went through it.” Furthermore, about 6,000 girls learned how to defend themselves using simple techniques such as carrying pepper spray and through some self-defence moves. In addition, many activists have conducted awareness campaigns by using videos via YouTube and social networks.
Currently, many Egyptian political parties are demanding the intervention of the law to deter sexual harassment in the country and end this phenomenon of sexual harassment. Egyptian laws against verbal insults and offensive acts do exist but none of them have actually worked, or eliminated these incidents. According to a 2008 survey of 1,010 women conducted by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, 83 per cent of Egyptian women said they had been sexually harassed. Alddin said sexual harassment is not always politically related or committed during protests. Statistics show women of different social classes around the country are almost daily subjected to some sort of abusive assault, either verbally or physically.