Egyptian women have not been the same since July 2020, exposing serial rapist and abuser “ABZ” marked the start of much deeper conversations. The thing about ABZ was that he does not fit our image of a rapist, he looks like a guy we can trust, with that our delusion of safety and our belief that our voices aren’t powerful enough, were gone. We took to social media changing narratives one tweet at a time, we filmed ourselves screaming, we heard each other, we mobilized, and collectively re-lived trauma. What we always wanted was happening, or so I thought.
I could not shake the thought that the rage filling people when they learned about the magnitude of sexual violence post ABZ is for the wrong reasons. I could not shake the thought that they are angry at “sexual” not “violence”, when it is violence we’re fighting. A conversation about consent with the undertone of keeping women pure, not keeping them safe, when in fact a woman who is not empowered to say yes is a woman who is not empowered to say no.
I could not shake the thought that the rage filling people when they learned about the magnitude of sexual violence post ABZ is for the wrong reasons. I could not shake the thought that they are angry at “sexual” not “violence”.
I am filled with fear that this awakening will cool down, leaving us with exposed wounds and much less choices, vulnerable to forced protection. So, on a summer evening, amidst mindless scrolling through the “virtual revolution”, my Mom and I opened this can of worms: the possibility of Egyptian women’s right to sexual agency.
Fast forward to a lot of disagreements, I reached a dead end: a healthy relationship with consent is not possible with a cultural premise already deciding for women. We have taken away her right to choose, paving the way for abuse and coercion. Which is why marital rape is such a controversial concept for many, assuming the cultural premise that marriage grants consent and lack of a marriage denies it - both scenarios further harming women. Another dead end: Islamic conservative society, alongside rampant slut shaming and sexualization of women. The shame surrounding female sexuality is how women are forced to suppress their natural interest in sex, and how everyone lacks access to proper sex education, hence creating future-possible-victims of all kinds of sexual violence.
We took away women's right to choose, paving the way for abuse. Which is why marital rape is a controversial concept for many, assuming the cultural premise that marriage grants consent and lack of a marriage denies it - scenarios further harming women
Talking with my Mom only lead me to believe in how when it comes to sexual violence the lines between what is a crime and what is immoral are blurred. Blurred by taboo, shame, and religion. Rape is seen as a sin, not a violent criminal violation. “Do you want everyone to go around having pre-marital sex and flaunting it?” asked my Mom. To which I replied with a simple, yes. Not because of my personal beliefs, not because of my choices, just because our fight against sexual violence is pointless if we still decide for women what to do with their bodies. ABZ is in jail but the cycle that produced him is still intact, a cycle keeping women on their toes filled with fear of being called sluts and whores which they are called anyway. The next ABZ will not blink at the opportunity of choosing his next victim from a pool of quiet, scared women. Women who not once have been given the space to decide their own boundaries and lifestyles. Women who’ve had a father assuming their “no” and a stranger/boyfriend/husband assuming their “yes”, in my eyes they are both guilty.
In Egypt, Rape is seen as a sin, not a violent criminal violation. “Do you want everyone to go around having pre-marital sex and flaunting it?” asked my Mom.
The only time our “no” will be heard is when our “yes” is not hesitant. The only time our “no” will be heard is when it is not seen as a challenge. The only time our “no” will be heard is when it is not assumed for us. Sex positivity is and should be an essential aspect of a feminist uprising, or else how will we encourage women to report violent men when the list of fears and labels is long and silencing. I asked my mom. “do you think a girl who’s being black mailed with her nudes will ever tell her parents? She said no. No, because our fear of abuse is less than our fear of family values, reputations, and tante calling us sluts. So, my mom asked, “and what’s the solution?” And we circled back to her do you want all girls to sin remark…
I wanted to scream that I don’t care about morality more than safety and that I think our false sense of conservatism is only giving men the upper hand and the chance to not only violate our bodies, but to also make sure we can never tell anyone. I wanted to scream that the consequences violent men face are much less than the consequences a so-called whore faces. Have we ever heard of a family murdering their rapist son, yet we hear about women murdered every day for choosing to own their bodies.
In 2007 hymenorrhaphy, or hymen reconstruction surgery became a nationwide debate topic after Muslim scholar Souad Saleh declared on National Tv that the surgery is halal for rape victims and women who were seduced but deeply regret their mistake. The debate went even further when Ali Gomaa who served as Egypt’s Mufti at the time backed up Saleh and said hymenorrhaphy could be allowed in certain circumstances where the woman who’s had premarital sex repents and promises not to do it again, and what was even more controversial was his statement stating that the wife can lie to her husband about it. However, the hymenorrhaphy discourse proved the patriarchal beliefs of both stances, and how hymen reconstruction surgery according to Gomaa and Saleh is a solution for “misguided” women and a protector to the marriage institution, while the opposing stance claims the availability of hymen reconstruction surgery would be a green light for women to sin and deceive their future husbands. Both ignore a woman’s choice; the former claiming women are tricked into having sex and stripping them of their agency and the latter claims women’s bodies are a symbol of family honor.
The same discourse is present post ABZ, the same urge to protect women from sin not from violence. Family honor and the shame surrounding female bodies and sexualities are fuel to rape culture, and fuel to violence. We will never be able to eradicate sexual violence without eradicating our fear of sexual women who make their own choices- freely. Sorry, Mom.