Egypt’s battle of the sexes

Egypt, by far the most populous country in the Arab world, is engaged in a fraught debate about relations between the sexes. The country has been transfixed by a wife swap scandal; recently police arrested hundreds of teens for what they said was “flirting” in the streets of Cairo; and last month, a man convicted of groping was sentenced to three years in jail with hard labour.

President Hosni Mubarak’ wife Suzanne says that the extent of the problem is being exaggerated by Islamists who want to further their conservative agenda. But research suggests that sexual harassment is widespread and many Egyptian women say they don’t feel safe.

So what’s going on? Is the old social system, on which the country’s sexual mores were based, breaking down? While sex outside marriage is still forbidden, rising costs are putting marriage out of the reach of many, particularly young, Egyptians.

On Saturday Newshour will be asking why sexual harassment is on the rise. We want to hear your views: Have you experienced sexual harassment while living or travelling in Egypt? And how can the problem be solved?

12 Responses to “Egypt’s battle of the sexes”

  1. 1 Munyoro
    November 27, 2008 at 14:37

    Why hinder cross-sexual relationships while it is vital towards continuing humanity? As much as the question of immorality is in scope, there should be a freedom of allowing people to intermingle freely. Such things are too much on a personal basis to be regulated by the state

  2. November 27, 2008 at 16:20

    Hi WHYSers!

    @ Munyoro,

    Your point about the need for freedom to socialise is a very valid one. However, what concerns me about your comment is how it does not seem to acknowledge sexual harrassment as part of those interactions. How much inter-mingling is ‘too much’ (?) in a context where sexual norms and mores are not only regulated by the state but also by a religious/ moral vision of sexuality which, effectively, sees women as property? My question is not so much a judgment as much as I am curious to know how can a space be organised in any society, in which what you advocate might be achieved, without also offending state/ religious sensibilities? And, are these mutual exclusives? If so, what explains the concerns, as noted above, about increasing sexual harrassment?

  3. November 27, 2008 at 16:28

    I actually do think that religion, like the state, should really allow people the freedom to do as they please, so long as that does not jeopardise other peoples’ safety, including minors and the disabled, especially. Ideally, the actions of like-minded, consenting adults are no one’s concern but theirs; that is, if they are within the boundaries of the law and are not a threat to public safety. The challenge, of course, is that ‘morality’ is, often, viewed through deliberately configured legislative lenses and traditional religious puritanism which serve the sole purpose of seeking to control peoples’ private actions in this way. How do we overcome that, in order to allow people to just be?

  4. November 27, 2008 at 16:42

    Conservatives, no matter what faith, are strung up about sex and sexuality it is beyond belief.

    There is something abundantly clear about conservatives – they are all nuts.

  5. 6 Yassine
    November 30, 2008 at 09:45

    Wahat I read here is views of people who are not religious and know nothing about the religion of Islam. Allah has decreed that we must not act like animals and that sex outside marriage is a trnsgreesion. As for Suzanne’s comment I can tell you that she is not Muslim. If she were a Moslem’s she would not use such words as conservative. In Islam you are either a Moslem who abides by Allah’s laws or you are not a Moslem. I don’t accept the word ‘Islamist’. It means nothing to me.
    Anyway this is not the biggest problem. The real problem is dictatorship. Mubarak should not be called ‘President Mubarak’ but rather ‘King Mubarak’. Don’t you see that he will rule Egypt until his death, like all Arab leaders.

  6. December 1, 2008 at 01:14

    sex outside marriage is still forbidden“, and “sexual harassment is on the rise“?

    I think the one is a partial cause of the other.

    And ideological dogma rooted in vested power interests does not help in understanding and realism with regard to basic human nature.

  7. 8 VictorK
    December 1, 2008 at 11:32

    @Yassine: the subject reflects Western prejudice and self-importance.

    I imagine that political and economic issues are more important to ordinary Egyptians than sexual harassment, but their views don’t count. A Western editor obsessed with issues of gender and sexuality in his/her own culture is transferring that obsession to a completely alien culture.

    There’s no thought of respecting the values and priorities of that culture, since to many Western liberals the notion of ‘diversity’ is that the whole world should look like them, only apparelled in colourful ethnic dress here and there.

    I completely respect the right of Muslims to order their affairs according to their values and traditions, and to address things that they (not outsiders) regard as problems in accordance with those values and traditions. Focusing on issues that are important to non-Westerners, instead of seeing everything from a Western perspective, would be a step in the direction of true diversity.

  8. December 1, 2008 at 16:26

    The notion of freedom is not conditional to cultural spatialities, or context, necessarilly. If one is oppressed, it would not matter whether such a person lives in the east, west, south or north. Oppression, regardless of its shape, form or colour/ culture is still that – oppressive and especially limiting in terms of its very damaging effects on peoples’ life chances.

    A defense, such as it is, of ‘cultural integrity’ cannot also include in it a right to enshrine oppression, at any level. This is neither just, nor sensible. The erosion of women’s rights, whether under Muslim religious rule or Western inspired democracies, or even a cross between these two artificially (?) created polarities is a vote against human rights everywhere.

    One could hardly debate the need for Egyptians to determine their own futures, based on their own perogatives. What is, however, unclear is whether ‘own perogatives’ would, by necessarity, imply a closing off from the exigencies of the demand for human rights for all peoples, everywhere.

    Are Muslim countries immune to the need for public education on a range of issues, including those related to sexual harrassment, domestic violence, etc. – all of which fall squarely within the domain of women’s rights? Just curious.

  9. 10 Jennifer
    December 2, 2008 at 00:44

    I think it’s important to consider that what one person sees as sexual harassment someone else might not. Sometimes message sent is not message received.

    I also think it’s important to consider whether or not sexual harassment can be used a means of showing dominance as in men do it because they can get away with it in some instances.

    The Muslim people have the right to set their own value system. I see nothing wrong with trying to preserve their society by upholding certain values.

  10. December 2, 2008 at 19:10

    @ Jennifer,

    Surely, your point is valid. What is of concern, however, is that where legitimate cases of abuse do occur, how are those to be treated with? It is just as bad to defend “cultural integrity” as it is to not support the goals of human rights or even women’s rights, simply because we feel it inconvenient to address the problems that come as part of certain social and political phenomena. That is equivalent to some state officials refusing to get involved in domestic violence on the premise that it is a “man and woman thing”! That is clearly contributing to the problem.

    The difficulty with sexual harrassment in any context is that sexual crimes are so difficult to prosecute, at the level at which it touches a part of ourselves that is not immediately visible and, therefore, not always easy to understand. Men who abuse children, as Oprah once pointed out, have the advantage of arousing, in some instances, the child’s appetite (?) for sex, notwithstanding the violence of the act. That would mean issues of harrassment, though somewhat different, also fall within these ambiguous categories of definition. Public education in any context about how damaging these are is always useful!

  11. 12 DENNIS
    December 9, 2008 at 23:35

    maybe, it a good thing that there will be a battle of sexes…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: