09 September, 2008

Egypt: Perv Capital of the World?

Egypt is famous for its ancient sites – the Pyramids, temples too numerous to count, plus more recent Islamic sites from the Fatimid Caliphate and the Ayyubids and Mamelukes that followed it. Increasingly, though, Egypt is attracting note for a less savoury reason – the country is increasingly being scene as one of the world capitals for male pervs, where women cannot walk the streets without being harassed and leered at. Over the last few years, there have been some particularly gross incidents, such as the mass groping by pro-government pervs of women opposition activists. There was also the 2006 incident in Cairo where large mobs of pervs used the celebrations of the Eid religious festival as an excuse to assault any woman unlucky enough to cross their path. But these seem not to be isolated incidents, but part of an endemic pattern of male perving. recent article in which some Egyptian women talk about as they go about their daily lives.

Egypt is not the only country in the Arab world (or the world generally) where male pervs are a significant problem, but it does seem a particular centre for sexual harassment and antediluvian gender politics. It is easy for those of us in the West to proffer lazy explanations for this kind of behaviour, with many no doubt saying that Islam is to blame for the ordeal Egyptian women endure. This is, however, simplistic. You would struggle to find anything in the Koran or the sayings of the Prophet and his companions to support the idea that women in public places are fair game to pervs. Likewise, I doubt there are any contemporary religious scholars who would see the assaulting of women on the streets as approved by Islam. In reporting on the Eid incidents, it was noted that both veiled and unveiled women were equally subject to attack, suggesting that the motivation here was not entirely religious. And the oppositional women mentioned above would probably have included devout women supporters of the Muslim Brothers, so the attack on them cannot be seen as some kind of obscurantist religious crackdown.

Some Egyptians quoted by the BBC have suggested that the country's problem with pervs is a product of the country's stagnation and economic dysfunction, with many young men unable to find the financial security they need before they can marry. In this line of thinking, their unmarried status leads to sexual frustration, which boils over into the harassment and assault of women in public places. I think this argument is maybe also simplistic, and it seems to make young Egyptian men into automatons unable to control their urges, but I reckon it does push the argument into a potentially more useful direction. Ultimately, Egypt's problem with sexual harassment is a social problem, and it may well have to be addressed in the context of the country's overall stasis and deep-seated gender inequalities.

Incidentally, it would be wrong to say that all Egyptian men are pervs - reports suggest that many of them are as shocked by the actions of their fellow men as people like us are.

1 comment:

Queenie said...

When I was in India there was a lot of that kind of perv action going on and the Times of India used the unemployed male excuse as one. Same when I was in Turkey.

Personally, I think getting away with it pretty much is the real reason. That doesn't explain why it starts, but perhaps the treatment of women generally as second class citizens is an indicator of why the guys give in to their urges.

I love that word - urges.