Sexual harassment in Egypt is endemic. There is really no getting around this fact. Explaining it away or brushing it off is of no benefit to the harasser, the harassed or society at large.
Blaming the victim is a tactic utilized both by harassers and their enablers. To think that, through what she is wearing, a woman is “inviting” you to verbally or physically violate her is almost as disgusting as the act itself. What’s more, it’s a claim that’s easily refutable – just ask the multitudes of niqabis and hijabis that have lewd comments hurled at them on a daily basis. My own wife, a hijabi and mother of two, was walking – WITH OUR DAUGHTER – in the mall just last week when a couple of guys ogled her and made some snide remarks. This is not, nor can it ever be, “3aadi.”
Thankfully, a number of initiatives have set out to combat this societal plague, including today’s dedicated blogging campaign (follow the hashtag #endSH on Twitter). Another tech-savvy approach to rooting out sexual harassment on Egypt’s streets is Harassmap, which digitally plots incidents reported by users through sms, email or Twitter. While these efforts are all worthwhile, I find there is a dearth of Islamically-oriented approaches to solving this problem.
One way khateebs and da3ees (not just in Egypt, but around the Islamic world) can help combat harassment is by reviving the ethos of futuwwa, or Islamic chivalry. Futuwwa encompasses a number of virtues, modesty and chastity being operative in this circumstance. Although Ramadan is always an opportunity for renewal, this aspect of the Holy month should be particularly emphasized this year in the wake of Egypt’s glorious revolution. As such, I truly hope all those who will be leading Friday prayers or spreading Islamic knowledge will take the time to highlight the need for our youth to start living a more virtuous, chivalrous lifestyle.
A while back, Imam Zaid Shakir wrote a wonderful piece on the essence of futuwwa. Although it is largely in terms of one’s duties with regard to marriage, it nonetheless a very worthwhile read for all the bachelors out there. I’ll close here with a quote from the article:
Islam is not a religion of empty laws and strictures but one which points towards a higher ethical order.
We don’t really celebrate Father’s Day in my household. Largely, this is because my family is a mobile, mini-UN – I’m Egyptian-American, my wife, also Egyptian, was raised in Sweden and currently my family is living in Cairo. As such, synchronizing holidays is usually more trouble than it’s worth and often anachronistic (can’t imagine many in Egypt get together for Thanksgiving dinner).
Still, Father’s Day in recent years has nonetheless been an opportunity for reflection. It’s both a solemn occasion, reminding me of my dad’s passing seven years back, and a chance to be grateful for my own foray into fatherhood. With each year, too, I realize how intertwined my past is with my present. A recent Freakonomics podcast highlighted this point all the more.
In the episode Things Our Fathers Gave Us, Dubner and Levitt recount the most important life lessons that their fathers taught them. By design I’m sure, I too began thinking about the gems that my dad passed down to me over the years. As it turns out, the most important bit of knowledge my father imparted on me was likely unintentional.
In his younger years, my dad was quite the risk taker. The fact that he decided to move to America when he had no opportunities lined up, little knowledge of the language and a wife and child back in Alexandria underscores this fact. This proclivity of his ebbed and flowed once we were all settled down in New York. He would continue his entrepreneurial ways, opening first a clothing store and soon after transitioning to a halal grocery store, but these were always side endeavors as he spent the bulk of his working years a civil servant for New York City. He would at times overreach and thereafter often overcompensate. When he found that sweet spot though, he was at his happiest.
And therein lies the somber economic truth of fatherhood. We all, as men, want to do something grand. When we step past bachelorhood, however, we can no longer take the risks that previously drove us to do great things. Once we cross over into married life and have kids, the opportunities to throw caution to the wind dramatically decrease – or, at least, are dramatically less viable. We get set in our ways and, especially if we dare to take a chance and fail, resolve to fly under the radar and “play it safe.”
Put differently, there is an invisible hand that guides all fathers toward a mundane life.
My father – through his resolve and determination; his successes and failures – taught me to always be on the lookout for those fleeting opportunities to do what you truly want in life. In short, to be happy, you MUST take risks – calculated, considered, but risks nonetheless.
Every moment of my life that exceeds the ordinary is owed in no small way to this priceless lesson my dad taught me.
Thank you, baba. Allah yerhamak…
Disclaimer: I am TOTALLY against the arbitrary and virtually unchecked power that the army is exhibiting on the streets of Egypt. Moreover, locking up activists while there are FAR more pressing security concerns goes beyond negligence – it’s borderline criminal. If the protests scheduled for Friday, May 27 were called SOLELY to address this dereliction of duty, I’d be there and be fully invested. Sadly, that’s not the case…
Switch and bait
As I wrote about in the previous post, one of the primary reasons that the protests were originally demanded was to insist on the creation of a presidential council. This civilian body would either supplant or supplement the role of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), depending on one scheme or the other. Since I already wrote on the folly of this position, let me address the claim that such calls are either on the periphery of or altogether absent from the protesters’ agenda.
First, there were the early reputable reports that a presidential council was a central tenet of the #May27 movement:
In response to reports that the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces is considering pardoning Mubarak and his family in exchange for the transfer of all their property and fortune to the state, Facebook pages have been launched calling for a second Egyptian revolution, on May 27, to replace the Council with a civil presidential council.
Second, there was the following analysis by @Sandmonkey from earlier this week that indicates that a call for a civilian council was firmly on the minds of central figures from the revolution:
Third, in today’s Ahram Online (which, incidentally, is an entirely independent entity from the State mouthpiece, Al-Ahram newspaper), the point is once again underscored: “The initial invitation circulating on Facebook for a new day of mass protest, scheduled for Friday, had as one of its first demands the formation of a presidential council.” It’s worth noting, too, that the picture accompanying this story is of the ballot from March’s referendum, an allusion to the undemocratic prerequisites that are necessary for the formation of a new civilian executive body.
Last, yesterday evening I attended a meetup for Tweets from Tahrir and took the opportunity to ask some of the key figures from #Jan25 what they hoped to accomplish on #May27. A new civilian council, in some iteration, remains a central concern. However, how this potential usurpation would manifest – let alone what role #May27 plays in this scheme – was sadly elusive.
Playing (dirty) politics with the Revolution
Even setting aside the implied (though still obvious) political motivations that are part and parcel of any call for a civilian council, there’s no denying the explicit interests promoted through a widely circulated and recognized list of demands.
The primary flier, distributed in hard copy and digital form (you can find the original Arabic document and a rough English translation here), listed three sets of demands under the headings “economic,” “political,” and “freedom.” The later two categories contain more or less widely agreed upon points (though I can probably pick a knit here or there). The economic demands, however, most assuredly do NOT represent majority will.
Among the flier’s ludicrous appeals is a call for not just a minimum wage, but a MAXIMUM wage. Already squarely left of center, the list goes on to tip the needle all the way to the edge of the spectrum, demanding price controls and – wait for it – A REDISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH. Why not just hang a “Closed for Investment” sign on Egypt?
With this obviously skewed manifesto, the groups behind #May27 clearly tip their hand. What they seek is not the “rescue” of Egypt’s glorious revolution, but an end around the democratic system they disingenuously claim they’re fighting to preserve. You can’t insist on sweeping economic policies prior to the election of a representative government while at the same time decrying a perceived curtailment of your civil liberties. That’s hypocrisy par excellence.
If tomorrow’s protest is indeed meant to “save” the Revolution and not advance parochial interests, then let me ask a simple question: If it was the Islamists that were disadvantaged in the upcoming elections, if it was their activists that were being periodically harassed and arrested, would these self-appointed guardians of the Revolution still see fit to call on Egyptians to descend on Tahrir?
The answer, to anyone paying attention, is clear.
A lost opportunity
In concentrating far too narrowly on interests far too niche, the organizers of this protest missed a golden opportunity to truly unite Egyptians once more. Had they simply promoted this event as a means to lend your voice to the issues universally agreed upon – the need for greater security, the need for regime members to be held accountable for their deeds, and the need to give our economy a shot in the arm – the support would have been tremendous. As it was, petty earmarks were heaped upon these most common denominators, rendering the entire endeavor both incohesive and incoherent.
I hope that somehow, some way tomorrow’s protest moves Egypt in the right direction. For the aforementioned reasons, however, I can not in good faith support what I perceive to be a thinly veiled power play masquerading as an unadulterated bid for freedom and civil liberties. Here’s hoping, too, that we can move forward and learn from our mistakes.