Egypt is helping me get over my Morocco Blues…

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The title of this post stands… I’m really not feeling Morocco… ha,ha…

I just wrote a long entry that just got erased…. Yakhrab beytik!

The funny thing is the post was singing Morocco’s praises… After being in Egypt for 9 months, I have a better perspective on how bad is bad.

Case in point, I went to Rabat yesterday, the city that nearly claimed my sanity.  When I lived there I thought it a relatively dirty place.  After 9 months of smelling trash and sewage in Alex, flushing pollution, swimming in beaches with cans and cups floating towards you every which way, washing pollution from my sinuses and walking around piles of trash to get where I need to be, I think I change my mind.  Rabat, is awesome.  Ha, ha….

The same goes for street harassment, it was this sexually and racially motivated trash talk and gestures that drove me to cuss out a random Moroccan man in the streets of Rabat’s old city one day.  While I will say that my skin color worked to my advantage for the most part when I was in Egypt, I still feared Egyptian men because street harassment there seemed to have no bounds.  I noticed a few weeks ago that whenever a man gets close my hand is automatically balled into a fist, no doubt something I picked up while walking home in Alexandria, where young boys literally throw rocks at you, and men try touch you wherever they feel like.  No, I don’t exaggerate, life in Egypt, particularly for a foreign woman is hard.

That is what I was thinking about when I read a blog account of yet another woman sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo (British journalist, Natasha Smith).  The reactions of friends and classmates ranged from absolute disgust with Egypt and Egyptian men to cautionary accusations of generalization and dehumanization and hypocrisy.  Where do I stand?

This woman’s  story is not surprising.  It’s sad to say, but I would be surprised for this to have happened just about anywhere else in the world except for Egypt.  A previous posts have intimated, sexual harassment in that country is a completely different beast from anything I have encountered anywhere.   Was it every single Egyptian man?  No, of course not.  But there were days when it seemed probably that the majority of men I walked by had something to say to me or about me, whether I liked it or not.  Was I touched all the time?  No, as a matter of fact, for me, touching was only an issue a few times.  Then again, that in and of itself is a problem.  That’s to say nothing of women I know who were touched constantly, accosted, exposed to acts of a disgusting and sexual nature, most of the time in broad daylight I might add.

Do things like this go on in other countries?  Yes.  But I would bet that the sheer volume of cases and the nature of the actions of the harassers makes sexual harassment in Egypt a uniquely Egyptian beast.  We can blame it on any number of social ills or pressures, unemployment, religious conservatism, social conservatism, the dictatorial regimes that oppressed people for so long.  All of that, to me are just empty excuses.

The crux of the matter is that these men are not penalized or stigmatized for what they do.  They are not made to feel ashamed for behaving like mindless brutes or for looking at women as less than fully human (yes, that’s what I call it when you think it’s ok to yell random obscenities at me for no reason at all, when you think it’s funny or a rite of passage to grab the breasts or crotch of a woman who happens to be walking by you).

Instead, more often than not, excuses are made.  When a man touched me in the street and I yelled at him, people looked at me like I was the crazy one, even after being explained the context.  When my friend cussed out a man in Egyptian Arabic for harassing here, Egyptian women admonished her for her harsh words and had nothing to say for her attacker ( This is especially interesting because they thought that she was Egyptian, her Arabic is THAT good). In short, a good chunk of the female population was most unhelpful.

It’s reactions like these that keep the wheels of harassment turning.  It’s a big blag spot in Egypt’s honor, and people don’t like to talk about it like that, but it is what it is.  Needless to say, I’m not rushing to plan my next visit to Egypt.  But, I do hope that the next time I go there, things attitudes, mindsets, and reactions will have changed for the better.  It’s already a hard place to live without having the scourge of street harassment to contend with.

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