Still from a Public Service Announcement in Egypt.
At the end of April Clarion Project spoke with leading Egyptian women’s rights lawyer Reda el-Danbouki. We asked him about the situation women face in Egypt, which was ranked the worst place to be a woman in the Arab world in 2013.
He told us that women face harassment and worse on a daily basis, but are reluctant to go to the police.
By way of explanation, he shared a personal story of a close friend of his, Lamar aged 25, who was abused in the street and found the police to be on the side of her harassers rather than helping her. They dragged her father down to the station and proceeded to intimidate and insult her until she left the police station in tears.
We got back in touch with Reda and Lamar to ask her some more questions about her life. Not only did she answer our questions, but she told us what has happened to her since.
In helping bring us Lamar's story, Reda told us that her story brought him to tears.
(Lamar’s name has been changed for her protection.)
How did it make you feel to be disbelieved by the authorities whose job it is to protect you?
Lamar: I went to the police and I imagined that they would help me, but I found that they have solidarity with harassers. They also harassed me themselves.
How often do women get harassed just walking the streets? Have many of your friends had similar experiences?
Lamar: Women are being harassed every day, every hour and every minute. I am being harassed by my co-workers and sometimes even by my manager. I am being harassed on public transportation, on the streets, while coming back home and even by my neighbors. My friends suffer the same problem.
Who do you feel in Egypt cares about these issues that you can turn to and talk with?
Lamar: The only ones who care about this subject are civil society organizations, and of course I can also talk to Reda el-Danbouki.
Why did the police bring your father to the station?
Lamar: The police insisted that my father will come in order to humiliate me and force me to withdraw the complaint even though I am perfectly capable of filing a complaint and I have the right to do so.
Is harassment more common at certain hours of the day and in specific places?
Lamar: There is no specific time for harassment. It happens everywhere and all the time.
How does the legal system deal with cases of harassment if they reach court?
Lamar: If a case gets to the court, most of the time molesters are found not guilty. It is like the judges encourage molestation. In very rare, rare cases you have verdicts against them.
Why do you think harassment is so widespread in Egypt?
Lamar: Harassment and molestation is widespread in Egypt because we live in a patriarchal society. They think that we women are their property, it’s like we are the food they eat or just a fruit they buy. We are merely bodies in their eyes, they see us only as breasts and behinds. They don’t see our minds and they don’t care about it.
What do you think can bring about change in Egypt and stop this rampant harassment?
Lamar: Things can be changed in Egypt if we prepare the women and empower them. This has to come from the decision-makers. We also need to have a female police force that will deal with these issues, meet with victims of harassment and help them.
The youth civil society organizations have the ability to stop it, but most of them are working without any support. They desperately need more money and to have broader reach.
After answering our questions Lamar told us what has happened to her since she last spoke with Reda el-Danbouki to tell him about her harassment. This is what she said:
For the last two days my father has been beating me severely, and he doesn’t allow me to leave the house. I called the police and told them that I was imprisoned, that my father beats me and also gave them the address of the house, but the police didn’t respond. One senior police officer told me “you must have done something bad and that’s why he beats you.” He didn’t help me at all and he slammed down the phone.
Bishoy Armia Boulous's Egyptian identity card
According to attorney Karam Ghobrial (“Gabriel”), his client, Bishoy Armia Boulous, a Muslim convert to Christianity, remains illegally incarcerated and has “vowed to starve himself to death.”
Bishoy, more notoriously known as Mohammed Hegazy, is the first Egyptian ever to try legally to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his official ID, prompting much shock and outrage in Muslim-majority Egypt.
In the words of his lawyer: “Bishoy is imprisoned in the execution room in violation of the law. Trumped up charges against him have not been proven and he is being treated even worse. He has not seen the light [of day] since being released from Minya’s misdemeanor court.”
Bishoy was arrested in July 2014. Then, the judge in Minya cited “disturbing the peace by broadcasting false information” as the reason for sentencing the apostate, who in the weeks before was documenting political unrest in Egypt brought on by numerous Islamic attacks on Christians. He was eventually released, but then immediately scooped up again by State Security acting on behalf of Cairo, now under the charge of insulting the Islamic faith.
Bishoy’s lawyer further said that “the [current] judge is behaving in a prejudiced manner in this case because Bishoy had public announced his conversion to Christianity.” He stressed the “need for attention to this case, and escalating it, so everyone knows what this convert is being exposed to.”
Bishoy has been imprisoned for nearly six months, without any action being done in his case. He is being held on charges of “contempt to the Islamic religion” and reportedly spreading “false news” about the existence of State Security “torture chambers” where Muslim converts to Christianity are detained and tortured. Bishoy apparently refuses to recant this claim (quite possibly because he himself is now experiencing it first hand).
As lawyer Karam Ghobrial maintains, it is clear that the real reason his client is being tortured in prison—where he is being held illegally under ever morphing charges—has to do with what made Bishoy Armia, formerly Mohammed Hegazy, notorious in Egypt in the first place: his audacity not only to convert to Christianity, but to try formally to change his religious identity from Muslim to Christian on his ID card, prompting much enmity for him in Egypt.
In short, Bishoy is just another prisoner of conscience, just another born Muslim who wishes to be Christian—but whose actions have been deemed offensive to the state. His story occurs with great frequency all around the Islamic world. In nearby Iran, for example, Iranian-American Christian pastor Saeed Abedini—also seen as an apostate agitator—continues to rot in prison.
Raymond Ibrahim is the author of Crucified Again: Exposing Islam's New War in Christians (published by Regnery in cooperation with Gatestone Institute, April 2013). He is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an associate fellow at the Middle East Forum. Mr. Ibrahim's dual-background—born and raised in the U.S. by Egyptian parents —has provided him with unique advantages to understanding of the Western and Middle Eastern mindsets.