Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Women Protest in Egypt

by Isobel Coleman
December 22, 2011

An Egyptian holds a copy of a newspaper featuring a picture of security forces beating a female demonstrator near Tahrir Square in Cairo on December 18, 2011 (Amr Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).

On Tuesday, thousands of women gathered in Cairo to protest the brutal treatment of women at the hands of Egypt’s military, but especially, the savage beating of a female protester whose abaya was stripped from her, revealing her torso and bright blue bra. The footage and the image  of her motionless body surrounded by soldiers, one poised to stomp on her chest, went viral on the internet and were splashed on newspapers all over the world. Tomorrow, women will march again. Sources on twitter say that the Muslim Brothers and Salafist groups are boycotting the march.

The incident highlights the military’s brutal crackdown on protesters, when many in the country have wondered if the ongoing sit-ins at Tahrir and the cabinet building were more obstructionist than revolutionary. Nonetheless, the military’s response has rightly drawn criticism from around the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday, “This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform, and is not worthy of a great people.” Today, Fayza Aboul Naga, Egypt’s minister of planning and international cooperation and a hold-over from the Mubarak era, slammed Secretary Clinton’s remarks, saying that Egyptian women did not need foreigners to demand their rights and that they are capable of defending themselves.

As I wrote here, women have struggled to find entry to decision making bodies in the new political climate, despite their significant and crucial participation in the transition. The outpouring of rage sparked by the devastating beating of the still anonymous young woman has prompted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to apologize for the mistreatment of women protesters, and affirm their right to political participation.

However, their apology comes as little comfort to the victims. Azza Hillel Suleiman tried to come to the aid of the beaten women as can be seen later in the same footage. She approaches the beaten women, covers her body, and stands up to yell at the soldiers. Seconds later, they descend upon her, beating her savagely. Ms. Suleiman is still hospitalized. This video is graphic and disturbing.


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