Unfortunately women are abused in many different ways worldwide. From physical violence to sexual abuse and exploitation are all part of this ongoing tragedy. A young Egyptian activist talks about how to create greater awareness to stop the horrific abuse of women that has been on the rise in Egypt.
Saturday May 30, 2015, 12:29 DST
Interview with Ahmed El Fiky, Egyptian author and women’s rights advocate
Ahmed el Fiky is a young, aspiring author residing in Cairo, Egypt. His first book, Operation 9/11, written as a 24-year-old investigated the truth behind the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on Iraq. His painstakingly researched fictional work received much acclaim and persuaded Ahmed to consider a second book on a subject of extreme sensitivity in post “revolutionary” Egypt: Women’s Rights.
Since 2011 women have had an increasingly raw deal in Egypt reeling from successively oppressive and regressive regimes when it comes to equality and progressive reform for women. If anything, the society in Egypt is far less liberal now than during the 1960s/70s.
In the wake of the FIDH report (https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/egypt_report.pdf) that exposed the horrific abuse and exploitation of women in detention that has been ongoing for a number of years in the Egyptian prison system, it is important to consider how women are viewed in Egyptian society. An astounding 99% of Egyptian women suffer some kind of sexual harassment or abuse. In a previous report, FIDH https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/egypt_sexual_violence_uk-webfinal.pdf highlighted the number of unprosecuted attacks on women particularly during anti-Morsi protests which seemed to be a brutal, humiliating and concerted effort to prevent women from participating in the public and political spheres.
Figures vary but it is safe to report that over 50% of Egyptian men admit to sexual violence towards women and a more worrying trend is that a higher percentage state that it is the woman’s fault for dressing or behaving “provocatively”. 92% of married women in Egypt between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone “voluntary” or forced female genital mutilation (FGM).
Ahmed el Fiky is in the vanguard of the Egyptian male awakening to the need for reform within society and the re-integration of the Feminine into every aspect of Egyptian culture.
Vanessa: Good morning, it’s a pleasure to finally speak with you. Could you please give me some background of yourself. I know you wrote your first novel on the truth behind the 9/11 attacks and you are now working on your second book.
Ahmed: My name is Ahmed el Fiky. I am 27 years old. I studied Business management, and I work in the marketing department of an insurance company. I am a published author of one novel discussing the 9/11 attacks and how it brought about the war on Iraq. It was written in English and published in the States on the 28th May 2012, then in Egypt in 2013.
V: How was it received in the States?
A: Generally there was a positive feedback from people in the US. It was entered in a competition there and I received very positive opinions from the judges. I will never forget a comment made to me by an American friend who said “your book changed my perception, we are a great nation but we are responsible for many crimes as well.” To cause a paradigm shift in one person’s mind is a great honour.
V: What then led you on to write the book you are now working on?
A: Well, I am currently working on a book on Women’s rights. I am a strong and sincere advocate of women’s rights, I cannot turn a blind eye while one half of Humanity is being oppressed by the other half. I think women everywhere are not being treated the way they deserve to be treated, and those who are responsible for this are mainly men. So I think it is my human responsibility and moral duty to write a book defending women’s rights. As long as it is only women who are fighting for their rights, nothing will be achieved. Men need to support them in their battles.
V: Have you always felt like this or has something in particular drawn you to this conclusion?
A: I have always felt that this is my responsibility. When it comes to equality, we see black people defending their rights alone, women defending their rights alone and generally speaking, minorities are expected to fight alone. It is immoral, irresponsible and unjust to fail them.
V: If we take the example of Egypt, would you say the objectification of women has always existed, has it fluctuated and is it worse now than in the 1960s for example?
A: It is definitely worse now and it has certainly fluctuated. Speaking about Egypt, women here are very much objectified, categorized and labeled. They were created to please men; that is the pervading mentality in Egypt. We have seen a backlash against previous liberalism from close-minded people trying to keep their women “safe”. Their methods for keeping women “safe” are forcing women to dress a certain way, act a certain way and live according to preordained rules.
The problem is that both groups are objectifying women consciously or sub-consciously. Both are two faces of a coin. One group sees “covered” women as retrogressive, old fashioned and oppressed while the other group see uncovered women as promiscuous or even as prostitutes. Very few individuals seem able to avoid labeling women under one of these categories. So, yes, I think in Egypt, they are very much objectified. Sexual harassment is on the increase. The way men talk about women when they are together is deplorable; they are obsessed with their sexuality.
V: What do you consider are the reasons for this obsession with sexuality?
A: I have a very radical take on this subject. The only cause of sexual harassment is immorality. Yes we have unemployment problems that are affecting people and many young men are unable financially to get married until they are in their 30s. Some religious scholars are certainly objectifying women indirectly. But at the end of the day any man who harasses a woman sexually, is quite simply an immoral, despicable and villainous person.
There is no excuse. We are, in theory, conscious beings. Any hypothesis that suggests that we are completely driven by our circumstances, socio-economic, political, psychological, religious, is simply paving the way for more crimes to take place while perpetrators go unpunished. These crimes are a result of a form of mental illness where the man has lost his ability to reason or to deny his most base urges. I believe that for a man to wish to sexually harass a woman, there is a moral deficit in this man.
You will find many married men who are harassing women. In fact, the majority of men who harass women are married! They are even in relationships with other women and you will often hear them making sexual jokes about women. I listen to this a lot. These men often come from the upper or middle classes in society. There is no difference, here, between the poor and the rich, the educated and the uneducated people in their attitude towards women, so this is why I have concluded that it is an issue of morality. To summarize I would say that the problems addressed and promoted as causes of sexual harassment are, to me, secondary causes, the primary being a universal immorality.
V: Do you feel that this “moral issue” has always existed throughout history?
A: Yes I do believe it has always existed but now it is much worse. In order to combat it, we need to cause a paradigm shift in people’s mentality. But it goes deeper than this. If someone is immoral and they are harassing women sexually or verbally, this is, in itself, a moral problem. We also have to consider the direct or indirect religious justification for this behavior, for example a woman not wearing the hijab. The harasser will use the religious “tool” in order to label the women as “bad women” because they are not covered or are dressing in what is perceived as a sinful way so they are “asking” to be harassed. The perpetrator will say, the woman deserved it because she is not covered; this is a lie when we consider the number of women who have been harassed or even raped even when wearing hijab or niqab.
V: So if we consider that morality has to be brought back on all levels through education, the family and the religious teaching, how do we re-integrate the feminine into our society?
A: I think that this is a very important question. I would consider religion to be key to this re-integration. Contrary to what many people would expect me to say, I believe “religion” is a fundamental component of the oppression of women. I say “religion” because true religion cannot oppress anyone. Distorting the religious message and advocating religious extremism is a huge contributory factor to the oppression of women, it is an almost unassailable excuse and justification.
I come from a Muslim background where Islam plays a great role in our lives but is it true Islam or a distortion of our beliefs and traditions?
I would say that people in Egypt and across the Middle East have drifted away from the foundations of our religion. On the other hand we have crucial jurisprudence problems: many interpretations of religious text propagate the oppression and inequality of women. Radical reform is needed and women must play a stellar role in this reform.
If we consider the situation from an Islamic point of view, we are distorting the message of Allah/God through our actions. I take the position that we are all progeny of Adam, who was a conscious being created from dust. Since we all come from the same origin, we are equal and we should all have equal opportunities. To make it simpler, we need everyone to believe that we are equal and to then act according to this belief. It will take a number of open-minded people to apply this theory.
I repeat, religion is key here, especially in our societies so we need educated women who are religious scholars because when I read the interpretations of the Quran, they have been done predominantly by men. Men are interpreting it according to their backgrounds, mindset, & traditions. We need women to interpret the Quran and to rectify the misinterpretations.
To summarize, we are equal from a philosophical standpoint, we are not in conflict, we are helping each other; we are completing each other not competing with each other. To achieve this equality we need to give women the same space we give to men. Since religion is a very important component, we need women who are religious scholars who can interpret religion and the Quran and who can be jurists and judges on the content. We need balance. If you like, “religion” is a problem that can only be resolved by Religion.
It is interesting that if we look at Islam across the board, I mean jurisprudence, history, the religion in general I think we were far more open-minded and liberal during the time of our Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). We have drifted so far from God’s message.
V: What are you hoping to achieve by writing the book? How do you think you can get your message across to men who are adhering to traditional visions of a woman’s role in their lives?
A: Well, I think the majority of its readers will be women and I wish to give women hope that there are still men out there who are prepared to support their aspirations to their conclusion. I hope and pray that my book will awaken men to the suffering of women in our societies and provoke them to take action to prevent it.
Once again I return to religion being such an important parameter in this discussion. We are all human beings and I believe consciously or subconsciously religion is important to all of us so we must re-connect to religion in order to change the mentality and the mindset but not the distorted religion that has permeated our society, the true religion that engenders equality and respect. We can of course, also use emotional tools: imagine if this were your mother, your daughter or your sister, would you accept anyone harassing or abusing them?
I would also like to make the point, Martin Luther King, in one of his books, mentioned that he had white people supporting him in his struggle for equality between whites and blacks but at some point these white people told him “that’s far enough”. We need men to support women, yes, but to support women to the very end of their struggle not just attend a couple of demonstrations.
V: How optimistic are you for the future?
A: My friends always tease me about my optimism. I am always hopeful for the future. There is hope in people. I am seeing that the world is changing. We have a very profound and powerful statement in Egypt which currently we don’t actually believe in: “Women are half of the society and they give birth to the other half.” We need to return to the point where we respect this statement.
By achieving equality, we must also celebrate our psychological, physical and emotional differences, not deny them. We are supposed to complete each other not to compete with each other. To men I say: If you still believe women are not the equal of men, consider who raised you, taught you, instilled values in you and without whom you could not have survived. To women I say: your influence upon us is a reminder of who we are, where we came from and where we are going. We would be lost without you and your survival and empowerment is both our obligation and our necessity.
V: One last question. The FIDH report has just been published detailing the horrifying abuse of women held in detention centres across Egypt. Please would you comment upon this expose of crimes against women that have been increasing since 2011.
A: The FIDH report highlights that legislation will not suffice as a deterrent against these heinous crimes. Yes we need legislation but more importantly, we need good people to enforce it as well. Unfortunately the people and therefore the regime are corrupt. We have been incubated in a society that teaches us to be sexually obsessed, that obsession is then cultivated by the regime in order to control us through fear and ignorance.
A regime that uses such outrageous methods will fall sooner or later. I have no interest in any political party or philosophy in this country… I despise Egyptian politics … I am just stating facts and saying the truth – which of course may lead to my imprisonment these days.
As Orwell said: “In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. ”
In March 2013, long time women’s rights activist and reformist, Gameela Ismail, addressed John Kerry and made an impassioned appeal for true revolution and Democracy in Egypt. Her speech was on behalf of all Egyptians and was never seen in the mainstream media but it is an important message for Humanity, to not accept the limitations imposed upon us by the Imperialist powers whose agenda is to divide, marginalize and abuse Humanity until it accepts the shrunken and patriarchal democratic edicts fed to us as scraps from their over-laden banqueting tables of greed and power.
Women’s liberation and equality hangs in the balance, in Egypt, and elsewhere in the world. The tipping of the balance depends upon the education of men to inspire them to support and stand in solidarity with the one half of Humanity without whom they would not exist.
(Courtesy: Vanessa Beeley, a peace and anti-war activist, who interviewed Ahmed el-Fiky)