Descent of Men (Egypt Edition)

The outlines of the case are simple. The mob came to the home of a Christian man accused of dishonoring a Muslim woman by offering his love. They torched some nearby homes of other Christians. The mob dragged out his mother, disrobed her and paraded her naked through the streets. The police arrived much too late to prevent the spectacle. The Governor of the province (Minya) blamed the entire matter on the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no evidence that the crowd was demanding the return of Morsi, nor that they had just put down their copies of Sayyid Qutb and sprang into action fired by the zeal of his writing. In any case, had the crowd been composed of partisans of the Brotherhood the police would likely have shown more alacrity and less restraint.

Naturally, many will file this case under the heading of “Sectarianism”. And it does qualify for that perennial and tiring problem of religious bigotry in Egypt. But this observer wishes to call another aspect to attention; that of misogyny. The bias against women in Egypt is one that transcends the religious divide and has profound and retarding effect on the nation. What we have witnessed in the last decades is nothing less than the descent of Egyptian men. Even if all the Christians were to disappear from Egypt, the underlying illness captured in this episode will continue to haunt the country.

First, why should an affair between a Muslim woman and a Christian man be more offensive than one between a Muslim man and a Christian woman? It is not the religion but the gender. It is not for this observer to sort out whether misogyny is built into “Islam” or merely a construct of its interpreters. Islam, like any religion, is capacious enough to contain whatever good or ill its faithful can crowd into it. In any case, no religion has a monopoly on misogyny. The point is that the events contain many tell tale signs of the dangers such feelings pose to the country, and of the prevalence of those feelings among many, including Islamists, secular authoritarians, nominal progressives and every shade in between.

The Muslim Brotherhood, and Islamists in general, maybe innocent in these events, but not in others. They have sought to reform society by imposing the will of of one half on the other half. Women are “protected” by the paradoxical acts of gently covering hair which lacks nerve cells and savaging genitals which have them in abundance. Their vision of an upright land where every woman is invisible and silent contradicts all evidence of what makes a free and prosperous society. Nor are the so-called revolutionaries innocent of such feelings. Few want to remember the case of a CBS reporter stripped and nearly raped in the midst of the euphoria celebrating “freedom” from a supposed dictator. To the victim of the assault it must have seemed that every male celebrant is a potential oppressor or worse. The military, the vaunted protector of “mother” Egypt’s integrity and honor is also not immune to misogyny. It saw fit to poke between the legs of young women to prove the decency of its men. Sexual freedom and autonomy of women remain a proxy for rebellion. The religious authorities, both Muslim and Christian, are entirely male. They will undoubtedly rush to make sure that the ordeal of one old woman does not mar “brotherly” feelings among Egyptians of differing faiths. Every woman who lives in or visits Egypt can attest that harassment can come from such a wide variety of sources that it transcends ideology.

All that brings us to a grim conclusion. It hard to see how Egypt can progress when in a crowd of hundreds of men not one had enough Shahama to cover the nakedness of an old woman. Even the beasts of Dr Moreau have tried and cried “Are we not men?”.

— Maged Atiya


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