The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) was pleased to host El Bent: Chronicles of Egyptian Women, an evening dedicated to bringing to light the issue of sexual violence against Egyptian women. The event was held on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at the DC Improv Comedy Club. The evening featured the screening of the award winning short film El Bent, which was written and directed by Ms. Sondos Shabayek and chronicles a young woman’s experiences with sexual harassment in Egypt. The film screening was followed by live readings of Egyptian women’s testimonies of their experiences with sexual violence. The readings were provided by Egypt’s Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment initiative and the BuSSy Project.
Dr. Adel Iskandar emceed the evening, providing the audience with a thoughtful insight and guidance in unpacking the various root causes of sexual harassment in Egypt. Drawing upon personal anecdotes, Dr. Iskandar helped provide an intimate analysis of the growing epidemic of sexual harassment and steered guests through a dark and often sobering discussion on the brutal reality of sexual violence in Egypt.
TIMEP’s Executive Director, Dr. Nancy Okail, highlighted in her remarks the timeliness of addressing and amplifying voices of Egyptian women in the wake of horrific acts of sexual violence in the country. Dr. Okail acknowledged the somber tone of the evening program but emphasized that in the interest of raising awareness about sexual violence, we must be unapologetic in vocalizing. The film and the readings set the stage for a thoughtful discussion surrounding the concerning trends in sexual violence and exclusion of women from public spaces in Egypt. Volunteers read a series of testimonies which explored topics of sexual violence in public spaces surrounding the revolution. Some testimonies delved into the violent and graphic gang rapes in Tahrir Square during the mass protests in 2012. Other testimonies spoke of Egyptian women’s suppressed memories of childhood sexual violation. The testimonies further demonstrated how alarmingly common sexual violence is and how wide its reach—women experience it in their neighborhoods, on the streets, and in the place most consider safest of all: home.
After the presentation of the testimonies, guests had the opportunity to engage in a frank and open question and answer session with Ms. Shabayek. She addressed issues such as Egyptian men’s and women’s reactions to her past performances with the BuSSy Project and the increased concerns of the normalization of sexual violence in Egypt. Ms. Shabayek also elaborated on the difficulty of performing in open spaces in Egypt, the existing generational gap in acknowledging sexual harassment in Egypt, and how women universally experience sexual harassment regardless of physical appearance or dress.
This event also marked the release of TIMEP’s special issue of commentary articles on the topic of sexual violence in Egypt. This special issue offers an in-depth view of the social, political, and cultural roots of sexual violence and investigates areas of potential in combatting this epidemic. The event also coincided with TIMEP’s press statement addressing the recent mob sexual assaults in Egypt, which reiterated TIMEP’s commitment to amplifying and engaging local voices to better inform sound policy decisions that will productively address issues like that of sexual harassment.