Over the past few weeks, human rights groups recorded more than 20 cases of sexual assault and collective harassment against female protestors in Tahrir Square, which at times included stabbing victims with switchblades. Some victims are still in hospital in critical condition.
Meanwhile, most politicians view these crimes as incidents that can be manipulated, not as violations that should be studied and analysed with measures taken to prevent recurrence.
Some supporters of protests chose to remain silent about these crimes so the image of revolutionaries is not distorted or negatively impact public support for them as they struggle for “human dignity." Achieving greater goals justifies muting these assaults, as if human dignity is a goal that can be achieved by ignoring violated dignity along the way — as if continuing to ignore this social disease could lead to a society where dignity is protected. For them, the females who were assaulted are a price “we can bear” (stated as a group but spoken by those who did not pay the price) for the sake of a society with dignity.
Some opponents of sit-ins manipulate these crimes for their own arguments since, according to their logic, they show protestors as “thugs” who are unlike those who took to the streets in January 2011. They forget that sexual assaults are not limited to this wave of demonstrations (there were similar attacks during previous assemblies and their numbers increased from individual incidents in 2011 to a general trend in 2013). And they are not limited to political demonstrations (collective harassment has been rampant in crowds, especially during holidays, for about one decade).
They ignore that Tahrir Square is located in Egypt; the people there are the people of Egypt; crimes there are similar to those in other locations; and the state is responsible for maintaining order there like anywhere else. But all this is meaningless if the point is to malign protestors without focusing on the victims.
Some media outlets decided to inform society at the expense of victims. Several agencies published the names of victims who refused to be subjected to medical exams to verify their injuries, without consideration for the victims’ desire not to speak and remain anonymous. As if informing the people about the truth justifies further humiliation for victims, violating their privacy after their bodies were violated, by making them sanctioned “case studies,” not people with humanity and privacy. It is as if telling the people the truth demands revealing the identities of victims.
Dehumanising women — by stripping them of their humanity and turning them into objects, as El-Messeri put it — is not limited to reactions to assaults in Tahrir, but includes, for example, the positions of politicians on initiatives to protect females against harassment, such as female-only transportation, as launched by one political party. Huge controversy erupted, not because it broached a subject that needs remedy, perhaps through more effective methods, but because most politicians who criticised the idea believe it instilled the segregation of men and women. This criticism did not include an alternative to protect the dignity of females on public transportation without segregation. Instead, critics decided to sacrifice the bodies of women from the working class as a fair price for social “values.”
One year ago, politicians ignored the physical assaults by Muslim Brotherhood members against female protersters who tried to prevent clashes between those who went to demonstrate outside parliament and the Brotherhood who blocked their path. Their silence served political goals (to avoid further polarisation) at the expense of the dignity of female protestors, without the latter’s approval. But the silence did not maintain consensus and thus the dignity of these females was violated without value.
Dehumanising is not limited to females. The political scene today shows that politics uses people instead of serving them. The Muslim Brotherhood, seeking to reduce the political cost of the president backtracking on the constitutional declaration in December, sanctioned killing and incited its followers to demonstrate at the same location as other protestors.
During the recent wave of violence in Port Said, the opposition did not attempt to understand the reasons behind mass rage or contribute to solving their problems. Instead, it only tried to exaggerate its political gains based on this rage and put pressure to achieve demands that were not related to protestor grievances (the opposition called for amending the constitution and some articles in the election law).
Politicians have voided the slogans of Sharia and social justice of their meaning after using the masses to make electoral gains in the absence of visions and platforms.
This dehumanisation is evident in the stance towards the protestor who was thrashed and stripped of his clothes at Itihadiya Palace. Interest focused more on blaming opponents for the crime while the victim was pressured to become an instrument in this political conflict, instead of battling parties (government, opposition, media) dealing with the crime in a manner that guarantees culprits are punished and preventing recurrence. They did not care about the repercussions of widely broadcasting the naked images of the citizen; in their view, the “gains” of revealing the truth are worth sacrificing the privacy of the victim, even without his permission.
Using people as instruments for political goals and sacrificing them against their will — through exploitation, deception and opacity — is a crime under any circumstance, especially if they use justifications that contradict dehumanisation, such as the revolution, social justice, human dignity and Sharia. If politicians continue in their condescending ways towards the people they use, the legitimacy of the entire political system will be in jeopardy.
The people will respond with the same disrespect towards the system (government, opposition, media, institutions, figures and mechanisms) as that with which they are dealt, and will lose more faith in the system’s ability to serve and respect them. Naturally, as a consequence, violence will increase — not only political but also retaliatory — to take revenge on a culprit state and culprit politicians. This means violence will touch everyone.