Single Women in Egypt Not Welcome in Hotels Without Male Guardians

Monday 28 June 202103:18 pm
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"هاتي محرمك وأنتِ جاية"... فتيات مصر ممنوعات من الإقامة في الفنادق

“You are prohibited from staying at hotels in Egypt because you are a girl.” A phrase that some may consider a joke, but this is the bitter reality experienced by Egyptian girls who want to stay in a hotel. Some who are forced to do so because of urgent travel, for study, for a short business trip, for tourism, or medical treatment arrive there only to be surprised with the fact that they are not welcome there because they are not married.

When a young woman goes to a third-rate hotel to make a reservation, the usual response is: “Sorry, we do not accommodate girls without her mahram (male guardian),” or “There are no empty rooms,” or “We do not accommodate women under the age of forty.” Some deal with a female as if she is some kind of a disgrace or dishonor, with hotel owners imposing restrictions on women without the existence of any laws that prohibit a young woman from staying at a hotel without her mahram.

Because of this, an Egyptian lawyer has filed a lawsuit before the Egyptian judiciary with the aim of allowing young women to be able to stay in hotels alone, while demanding that the violators be punished. A female deputy also submitted a request to the Speaker of the Egyptian Parliament for a briefing to discuss this thorny issue.

She Spent her Night in the Streets

Merihan Mohammad, 30, had only wanted to take a local sightseeing tour, and ended up spending the night on the street, ogled at by the piercing gazes of men, after six hotels refused to provide her with accommodations.

The PhD student at Cairo University and teacher at an international school had no idea that her journey, which saw her traveling dozens of kilometers from Cairo to the governorate of Alexandria, would turn into an ordeal that time will not be able to erase from her memories.

Merihan narrates how her trip went to Raseef22, “In 2017, I crossed dozens of kilometers from my hometown to get to Alexandria in order to take a short trip, and I had planned on staying overnight at a hotel. Accordingly, I ended up going to six different third-rate hotels — all of them by the sea — and was surprised by their refusal to accommodate me, justifying their reasons with the claim that the Ministry of Tourism has dictated that they are not to allow any ladies to stay there alone, which is not true at all.”

Merihan’s story is not an isolated incident. Many young women have had the very same experience.

Some are saying that this is all taking place under the instruction of the Egyptian Interior Ministry alongside the Ministry of Tourism. However, Walid Badawi, a partner at one of the hotels in the resort city of Ras El Bar, tells Raseef22 that “there are absolutely no instructions whatsoever preventing women under the age of forty from staying at a hotel, neither from the Ministry of Interior nor the Ministry of Tourism.” He goes on to add, “There isn’t a single hotel owner that would refuse earnings or profit, and a young lady is the same as any man, so there is no justification for refusing to accommodate her unless the hotel owner is afraid of a particular guest, whether he be a man or a young woman.”

In turn, Ali Kamel Mansour, the head of the Tourism Buildings Chamber in the Nile Delta and cities of the Canal and member of the Board of Directors of the Tourism Buildings Chamber, indicated to Raseef22 that “There have been absolutely no instructions sent from the Egyptian Ministry of Interior to tourist facilities and hotels that girls under the age of forty — whether they are Egyptians or from the countries of the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) — be prevented from staying overnight in hotels.” He continues, “On the contrary, the state encourages internal and domestic tourism to the highest possible level — whether it is domestic tourism or of a more medical nature — and women are treated like men without any discrimination.”

On the 8th of June, the Egyptian Interior Ministry had issued a statement denying what had been stated in a lawsuit that spoke of the presence of instructions issued to hotels and tourist facilities to not allow Egyptian women, or female citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, to stay there without a “mahram” if they are under the age of 40.

“Some deal with a female as if she is some kind of a disgrace”... Hotels in Egypt impose restrictions on accommodating young women even in the absence of any laws stipulating so

Returning to Merihan and what she experienced, she says, “I did not know that I would face a situation that can never be erased from my memory.” She adds, “Unfortunately for me, that trip was my first one ever, and sadly I did not know anyone in that governorate to intervene and solve my problem for me, so I had to stay on the seashore all night long until the next morning. I then contacted my friends by phone in Cairo, and they named a hotel for me to go to. There, I received high-end treatment unlike that of the six hotels that had forced me to spend the night on the streets for the first time in my life.”

Merihan was not aware that the regulations of a lot of hotels in Alexandria prevent young women from staying there alone. She wonders “I mean, what? It’s okay for young ladies to sleep out on the street but not sleep in hotels?”

Merihan recalls the night she had to spend in the street, saying, “This is the first time in my life that something like this has happened. I was subjected to harassment by passersby, especially since it was summer, and some people were driving around the streets in their cars.” She continues, “Some think that any girl out late on the street is ‘not a proper’ girl. I had to walk several kilometers on foot to the famous Sidi Bishr district in Alexandria. There, I entered the beach area, where I booked a table and spent the remaining hours until morning on a chair, after which I went back to look for a hotel again.”

She goes on to state, “For me, staying on the beach is a million times better than sitting out on the street.” Usually the experience of traveling alone has become a difficult thing to do after what she faced, and “picking up my travel bag and traveling to any province on my own has now become an uncalculated risk and a hazard for me as long as I am a girl.”

Despite her bad experience, Merihan found herself amazed by Alexandria itself, and decided to move there. She rented a furnished apartment and found a job in an international school there.

But now her plight is a different one. Now it is Cairo hotels that refuse to accommodate her if she needs to stay a night during a study visit there, since it is written in her personal ID card that her place of residence is in Cairo.

She revealed that every time she heads to Cairo to pursue her doctoral thesis, “I face many struggles with its hotels, as I do not have the right to stay in hotels within the governorate in which I reside in.”

Third-rate hotels usually refuse to accommodate a young woman residing within the same governorate. In many other regions, hotels such as these refuse to accommodate any woman that is under the age of forty, even if she was from outside the governorate.

Merihan considers the obstacles that girls and women face in Egypt based on their social status a very provocative issue, especially since what is taking place on the ground is in direct and complete contradiction with the Egyptian law and constitution, pointing out the need for the Ministry of Tourism to enforce serious monitoring on hotels and prevent them from “gender and racial practices” against women.

“They Told Me I Must Have a Mahram with Me”

Maria Sami, a 26-year-old born in Cairo and currently working in a real estate investment firm, tried to book a hotel room in Alexandria over the phone four years ago, with the aim of visiting the city and taking a walk in it. To her, the response of the person responsible for the hotel’s reservations was a completely bizarre one, “You must have a mahram with you, whether it be your husband, brother, or father.” Her response to him was, “How are you saying this? I am past the legal age.” Later, the situation was repeated yet again in another hotel where she and her friend tried to book an overnight stay. Maria has been demanding for equality between women and men when it comes to attaining their rights to stay at hotels ever since.

As for Jihad al-Muslimi, 29, she grew accustomed to travel, roam, and commute between governorates due to the nature of her work. She owns an agricultural investment company, but she did not know that her trip to the town of Marsa Matrouh would cause her to cross more than 300 kilometers at night after not being able to find a room in a hotel. She opted to turn back, traveling the entire distance back on the same day so as not to sleep on the streets.

“The obstacles young women face in #Egypt based on their social status is a very provocative issue, especially since what is taking place on the ground is in direct and complete contradiction with the Egypt’s constitution”

Jihad tells her story to Raseef22, “One day I was in the Marsa Matrouh governorate, and I had finished my work at four in the afternoon, and after I had lunch, I tried to check-in into six different hotels, only to be stunned every single time with their complete refusal to provide accommodations for me, saying things like: ‘You are a young woman... You are not married, and we do not house any young women.’ This took place near the end of 2019.”

At the last hotel she went to, she recalls, “I was very close to calling the police in order to file a complaint on the reservations officer at the hotel. I found myself facing two difficult choices: either I would spend the night on the street in my car until the next morning — which would expose me to a number of risks and dangers — or I would have to travel and cross a distance of more than 300 kilometers to get to Cairo.” She states, “I was forced to travel late at night. To me, the entire thing was completely ridiculous.”

Jihad adds, “I do not know why so many hotels refuse to accommodate young women. As long as she is not under any criminal suspicion and has all her identification papers, why is she prevented from staying at a hotel?” She then asks, “What is the justification behind the refusal of hotel administrations to accommodate young women that were forced by certain circumstances to stay in a hotel?” She then pointed out that there should be specific legal measures that can be taken against any hotel that refuses women from staying overnight, such as calling the police, fining the hotel, and filing a lawsuit, “so that we can preserve our legal rights.”

“I Want a Man to Deal With”

Hadia Abdel-Fattah, founder of the anti-harassment initiative, “We Won’t Keep Silent on Harassment” (@domiat.anti.harassment), recounts how she experienced the difficulties of staying at a hotel in Cairo when she moved there from her hometown in the Damietta Governorate.

“I didn’t find it easy to book hotels because I was alone,” she says. “I was told, ‘We do not accept the accommodation of girls on their own’.”

The very same situation was repeated when she tried to rent an apartment after she and her sister moved to Cairo to work, “The female owner of the property said to me: ‘I do not rent apartments to girls’, and another told me: ‘I want a man to deal with’,” adding that her parents moved in order to live with her and her sister. “This comes at a time when female foreigners do not face the same difficulties,” she said, noting that the gazes of men that follow any girl that goes on a walk alone makes her feel as if she is committing a crime.

Representative Amira Saber Qandil submitted a request for briefing to the speaker of the House of Representatives stating that it was unconstitutional not to allow women to stay in hotels without a mahram. She also directed the request to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Tourism regarding restrictions on women’s stay in hotels, which are completely contrary to the constitution and the law.

The MP called for the Egyptian Cabinet to be made aware of the complaints that were received from Egyptian and non-Egyptian women under the age of 40, after they had been surprised with the fact that they weren’t allowed to reside alone without their husbands or close male relatives — such as “father and brother” — or book an overnight stay in a number of hotels and motels within the governorates of Egypt. This was all due to a number of hotel owners that decided to take measures of their own accord, or acted upon verbal warnings in violation of the constitution and laws that underscore the principles of equality and non-discrimination.

The MP added that not allowing women to stay in hotels is considered a serious act of discrimination against women, a segregation of their legal capacity, and an enforcement of a tribal guardianship that contradicts the civility of the Egyptian state. She also stated that it is a waste of their constitutional rights as a “full-fledged Egyptian citizen equal to man in every respect”, which is an explicit violation of the provisions of the constitution, as well as the criminalization provisions that follow in the Penal Code.

For their part, lawyers Hani Sameh and Salah Bakheet on May 19, 2021 filed a lawsuit before the First Circuit of Freedoms and Rights in the Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt. The litigation — registered under number 48010 of the legal year 75 — requested the cancellation of the decision, security instructions, and alerts issued by the Ministry of Interior to hotels and motels — especially those of the third-rate — to not allow Egyptian women or female citizens of Gulf countries under the age of 40 from chekcing-in alone and staying without their husbands or male relatives.

Bakheet tells Raseef22, “There are instructions issued by the Ministry of Interior for hotels to prevent Egyptian women and female citizens of the GCC countries under the age of 40, from staying in hotels ranging from one up to three stars, and in motels.”

Regarding the lawsuit, he says, “Today we submitted a report to the Egyptian Cabinet regarding the continued refusal of hotels to accommodate women under the age of forty, justifying this as a decision issued by the Ministry of Interior," adding that “the ministry is fully aware that it is not permissible to discriminate between men and women.”

On the reason for filing the lawsuit, Bakhit states, “During the blessed Eid al-Fitr holiday, and while we were staying at a hotel in Alexandria, we were surprised by the hotel’s refusal to welcome young women, claiming that there were instructions issued to the hotel management to do so.”

The plaintiffs demanded that the court compel the administrative authority to issue a report stating that there have been warnings that prohibit hotels and motels from accommodating young women.

They also called on the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministry of Tourism to issue instructions for hotels of all types and rankings to accept the accommodation of Egyptian women without any discrimination against them compared to men, as well as to remove all constraints.

The lawyer points out that these incidents committed against women constitute a violation of the path taken by the state in protecting and adopting women’s rights. He adds that they constitute crimes with no statute of limitations and crimes of discrimination, as well as a violation of the constitutional rights of women.

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