Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1168, (10 - 16 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

What happened to decency?

Eighty years ago or so, the Cairo-based magazine Magallati received a letter from one of its readers, the subject of which is just as familiar today.

I was travelling on bus no. 14, coming from Hadayek Al-Qobba, at 7pm yesterday,” wrote George Rasi, who gave his address as 9 Al-Malek Street in Hadayek Al-Qobba.

At the intersection of Al-Malek and Nogoum streets, I saw a woman running in panic, followed by a young man in air force uniform. As soon as the bus stopped at the station, the woman turned around, slapped the man on the face, and yelled asking for our help, at which point the man ran away. Then the woman got into the bus and told us that the man was harassing her because the street was empty at the time.”

I beg you to tell me, what happened to decency?” the reader asks.

The editor reassured the readers that decency was still intact, but something has to be done about such random assaults.

This story is repeated everywhere, all the time. It doesn’t mean that all decency is lost. We cannot eliminate this type of Don Juan predators by merely writing about it. But it is our duty to arm our women with the moral courage and confidence to fight off the cowards,” the editor stated.

The term sexual harassment wasn’t known back then, and yet verbal assaults of a sexual nature on women were common enough to merit public discussion, as well as vigilante reaction.

In various neighbourhoods, sexual harassers faced possible beatings, and enforced head shaves as well.

The script writer Osama Anwar Okasha, in the series Layali Al-Helmiya (Night of Helmiya), depicts a scene in which a rich young man gets beaten and has his head shaved for making sexual remarks about the daughter of a coffeehouse owner in Helmiya.

In the 1960s and the early 1970s, women used to walk around the city in sleeveless dresses and miniskirts without fear of harassment.

Things began to change in the late 1970s, when a good proportion of the nation’s men began working in the Gulf. Paradoxically perhaps, the conservative morality they brought back home sparked off an unprecedented wave of sexual harassment.

A recent study by the Initiative for Tolerance and Democracy notes that 85 per cent women who are sexually harassed refrain from reporting the incident. Most of the women harassed, nearly three out of four, are aged 18-25.

Looking into the background of the harassers, the study says that nearly one-half have no sense of religious morality and about one-third are poor.

Morality, needless to say, is a much larger issue than piety. I was once present in a lecture by Pope Shenouda III, when a man in the audience began complaining about women who come to church dressed in “inappropriate” clothing. The pope’s answer was: “So don’t look at them, are you here to pray or to ogle?”

The 14th century Islamic philosopher Ibn Al-Qayem once wrote, “those who turn their eyes away from temptation benefit in many ways, chief of which is that they rid their heart from pain, for he who looks and desires is bound to suffer if he cannot fulfil his desires.”

Sexual harassment has turned from an alarming phenomenon to a scourge that turned the lives of half of society into perpetual hell. Therefore, harassment must be confronted, not by brave women alone, but by society as a whole.

We need new laws for harassment, and we need to bring the perpetrators to swift punishment.

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