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A report from Egypt
She didn't feel safe, and that part of her fear, right now,
related directly to her gender

by Tami Mohamed Brown

After peacefully protesting with a large group of women in the streets of Al Mansoura during the Egyptian revolution nearly two years ago, my sister-in-law was recently grabbed and pushed to the ground on one of those same streets.

A man wrestled her school bag away from her and forcibly took her purse, her cell phone and her books.

She had been on her way to a class in the middle of the day, on a busy street. It's comforting to know that many people came to her aid almost immediately, caught off guard as she was by an act of daytime violence. Complete strangers picked her up off the ground. They made sure she could walk and that nothing was broken. They comforted her. Someone found a car and took her home.

My sister-in-law shared that just a few weeks earlier, a neighboring farmer made his way through a nearby field at the edge of town to tend to his land. The sun had not yet fully risen, but it was light enough for him to identify a shape: the body of a woman, on the ground, motionless. It was unclear if she had been there since earlier that morning, or since the previous night, but she had no clothes on. It was reported later that the woman had been raped, stabbed and then left. No one had been caught.

It's the kind of event that would shock anyone. My sister-in-law had never heard of such a thing happening in her city, a small agricultural town.

The dead woman was identified as a neighbor who lived close to the center of town, not too far from the fields, a walk she probably made alone, uneventfully, for years.

"I was lucky," justified my sister-in-law of her own experience. "It could have been worse."

While she wasn't explicit, the story she chose in follow-up to her own experience seemed to convey that she didn't feel safe, and that part of her fear, right now, related directly to her gender. This was a young woman who was excited, invested and so extremely proud to be part of a process that equated change and equality and possibilities. Now, even the road to her school seemed to her more difficult and challenging than it had previously been-in a different way.

Things haven't changed for the better since the revolution. In fact, I'm told, many things are worse. Food is expensive. There aren't more jobs. The weakened role of the state has opened the door to violence, and in response, to vigilantism.

"Will you go back to school?" my husband asked his younger sister.

A quote by Andrea Dworkin: "Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge."

Of course, she would continue to venture out, she said. But maybe a brother or a cousin would take her from now on.


But if people have to be protected from literally venturing out, they're unlikely to make it anywhere even near the edge. They'll be that much further from the peaceful path my sister-in-law imagined the revolution would set her country on, the path ventured out on by way of Tahrir Square and the streets of Al Mansoura two years ago to gender and class equality. Opportunity. Independence.

Maybe someone would take her for a while, added my sister-in-law, revising her choice of words. But just for a while. Only until she was ready to venture out on her own again.

Tami Mohamed Brown lives in Bloomington with her family.

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