Egyptian women carry banners in Arabic that read:"Social justice," as they march to Cairo's central Tahrir Square to celebrate International Women's Day, Tuesday (Photo: Reuters)
Today, on International Woman’s Day, Egyptian men and women activists organized a Million Woman March for women’s rights in Tahrir Square, which turned into a violent scene of confrontation.
“We are not convinced by the amendments of the constitution as they don’t give women the right to run for presidential elections, and there are still no equal rights,” said Reem Shahin, a member of the Million Woman March movement.
The Million Woman March started with activists sharing flyers and their ideas with other people in Tahrir. The ideas of the movement were not acceptable to the majority of the people. “I feel people are disgraceful, they don’t want equal rights for women,” Yasmine Perni, an Italian photographer participating in the march told Ahram Online. Perni had a long conversation with a koshary seller who told her that she is well off and does not need money and for that reason she should not voice her opinion. He also argued that women should stay at home and not engage in political life. The conversation became aggressive and the man started ripping up the flyers of the movement and throwing them on the ground.
People were standing in groups and the majority of conversations were tense. “Egyptian women are too emotional. They are different from western ladies,” Mahmoud Ahmed told Ahram Online.
Others rejected the ideas of the march because of religious backgrounds. “We rule by the Quran and the Quran does not allow a woman to rule men,” said Mustafa Tarek to Ahram Online.
Meanwhile, as a group of activists stood side-by-side holding banners of the movement calling for equality, another group of male protesters came from the other side to disrupt the march. As males and females activists chanted “Men and women, one hand,” “Muslims and Christian, one hand,” the other group described as “thugs” chanted “No, no, the people want women to step down,” and “The Quran is our ruler.”
It was a shouting match more than a dialogue, with neither side hearing the other. The thugs became insulting and aggressive, but the majority of the activists insisted on staying. The thugs then became violent and started pushing and harassing some women. Activists ran away to Qasr El Aini street, thugs running after them until they reached a point where the army was stationed. The army fired in the air, and the thugs ran away. The army sent soldiers to accompany home girls who had been harassed. “I got harassed by those thugs, I don’t know what to say,” said an activist female who preferred to remain anonymous. She was very angry and called on everyone to leave Tahrir Square and not to return, at least for today.
Feminist activist Mona Ezzat who participated in the march thinks that this is a result of culture created by the old Egyptian regime. “This is a natural product of the long years of dictatorship and the absence of culture in Egypt,” Ezzat told Ahram Online. She also thinks that the disruptive people were thugs and do not therefore represent the majority of Egyptians.
Most people in Tahrir Square believe that the old regime pays thugs as one of their counter-revolution techniques. “They come here every day and try to disperse our demonstration in Tahrir Square. The same faces every day,” said Osama Motawea, one of the demonstrators who sleeps in Tahrir Square every night.
The marchers left in sadness, shock and fear. “It is very intimidating, that Women’s International Day ends this way. Women were here every day during the revolution standing hand in hand with men,” Sara Rifaat told Ahram Online.
The Million Women March organizers have no roots within human rights organizations or political movements. “We are just Egyptians who met in Tahrir Square and shared similar ideas,” said Ahmed Mustafa, coordinator of the march.
The movement is planning to get their voice heard by organizing other protests, writing about the issue and meeting officials.