Tens of thousands of Egyptians crowded into Cairo’s famous Tahrir Square Sunday to celebrate the victory of presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi, but British journalist Natasha Smith is issuing a stern warning against getting caught up in the “wave of euphoria” like she originally did.
Despite the atmosphere of “jubilation, excitement, and happiness,” she said, the festive crowd quickly turned on her, pulling her from her male companion, ripping off her clothes, and violating her.
Natasha Smith explained on her blog [content warning; all emphasis added]:
Men began to rip off my clothes. I was stripped naked. Their insatiable appetite to hurt me heightened. These men, hundreds of them, had turned from humans to animals.
Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.
I shouted “salam! Salam! Allah! Allah!” In my desperate state I also shouted “ma’is salaama!” which actually means “goodbye”…
At this point, I said aloud to myself, calmly, over and over, “please God. Please make it stop. Please God. Please make it stop.”
Eventually, Natasha says, her companion was able to find her and they were able to escape the tent she had taken refuge in with the help of a few friendly Egyptians, one of whom pretended to be her husband:
The men outside remained thirsty for blood; their prey had been cruelly snatched from their grasp. They peered in, so I had to duck down and hide. They attempted to attack the tent, and those inside began making a barricade out of chairs. They wanted my blood.
[The man who pretended to be my husband] pulled me through the crowds out of the back of the tent. He told me: “don’t cry. Do not cry. Look normal.”
I was barefoot, dodging broken glass and debris, trawling through mud and dirt. My inner reserves of strength kicked in, and I stopped crying and just thought “keep calm and carry on.”
Smith’s alleged treatment by authorities and hospital staffers immediately thereafter was almost equally disturbing, because it demonstrated such apathy for the crime:
Upon reaching a government hospital downtown, we tried to explain the situation. People stared at us blankly, sloping around the corridors. We were turned away and told to go to a nearby hospital instead. Nobody would take us; we just had to walk there.
Upon arrival, I was eventually ushered into a small cubicle. Two men asked “are you pregnant? Married? A virgin?” They seemed displeased by my response of “no”.
Finally our friends turned up with a lady from the embassy. I was taken to a private hospital where a doctor’s first question was “are you married?”, which is of course the most important question to be asking a victim of mass sexual abuse. He and a female nurse (who only reluctantly kept me covered up) looked briefly at the damage and just wandered off, saying that because I didn’t have internal bleeding, they couldn’t do anything.
The Huffington Post notes:
Other female journalists have faced sexual assault while working from Egypt in the past. CBS News’ Lara Logan was attacked while reporting from Tahrir during the 2011 revolution. She described the incident in an interview on “60 Minutes,” saying that men in the crowd had “raped me with their hands.” Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy also detailed her assault at the hands of Egyptian security forces, who detained her during protests in November.
The trend, however, is not limited to high-profile cases. Egyptian women have reported widespread sexual harrassment and abuse, with 83% of local women saying in a 2008 study by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights that they had been harassed. Earlier in the month, a group of women who attempted to protest such treatment were abused themselves as they marched in the square.
Despite it all, Smith maintains a love for the country and hope for its people, saying that “this vicious act was not representative of the place I had come to know and love.”
Smith’s blog post has received nearly 800 comments as of this article’s publication, and now that the story is being picked up by international outlets, that number is only likely to increase.
However, unlike many other stories, a shocking number of the commenters told their own stories of sexual abuse in Egypt, or what had happened to their friends and relatives.
“This is a consistent trend, and it has to stop,” Smith said.
(H/T: Weasel Zippers)