BEIRUT: As part of a global day of action against sexual violence in Egypt, dozens of activists gathered Tuesday evening outside the Egyptian Embassy in Beirut, but for protesters the event was about more than just Tahrir Square.
The widespread public anger which led to the toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak two years ago has not died, and as disappointment in the new government has increased, so too has the frequency of protests, and with that a spike in reported sexual attacks against women demonstrators.
On the second anniversary of the start of the revolution on Jan. 25, 19 separate sexual attacks were reported in Tahrir Square alone, one in which a woman was even penetrated with a bladed weapon.
In the face of government inaction, civil society groups such as Tahrir Bodyguard and Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment have emerged to help women have the freedom to protest.
Organized by the Uprising of Women in the Arab World, activists met in 35 cities including Sydney, New York, Yerevan and Ramallah to decry what they called a depressing phenomenon, and the apparent lack of intention on the part of the authorities to do anything to stop it.
Using a lyric from iconic Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, the largest banner in Beirut read “Patience has limits” with the addition “From Egypt to Lebanon, our bodies are one.”
Sara Sbeity, 25, was there to stand up to what she labeled “sexual terrorism.”
“We want women in Egypt to know that we support them, but this is also a message to patriarchal governments across the Middle East that we will not stay silent.”
In terms of Lebanon, Sbeity called for the introduction of a civil personal status code, citing existing Article 522, which allows men convicted of rape to have their sentence commuted if they marry their victim.
For Layla, 26, the protest was about more than just sexual violence, as she believes that is part of a system in which women are also denied equal rights in education, the law and religion.
“We need to be treated as equal citizens. This is a message to all governments, to the Salafists, to the opposition movements, to everyone.”
Samir Moukaddam, 51, attended the protest as he believes the current Egyptian government is deliberately neglecting the issue of sexual violence in Tahrir Square to dissuade women protesters from taking part.
“Even the previous regime didn’t use that weapon to the same extent,” he continued, “as supporters of the revolution, we have to support all of the actors, and the actresses, behind that struggle.”
The Egyptian people, Moukaddam added, are an inspiration to the entire region. “They are all sacrificing so much – rape, torture, it’s beyond comprehension,” he said.