Right now, thousands of Egyptian women who gathered to commemorate the centenary of International Women’s Day in the newly liberated Tahrir Square are being assaulted, harassed and brutalised. Not by Mubarak’s thugs, but by the men who lately stood beside them as equals on the barricades. As I write, images and reports are coming through on Twitter from women fleeing male aggression in the symbolic heart of what is already being called the Arab Spring. Speak it aloud, let it ooze over your tongue: how bitter does it taste?
“During the revolution, women weren’t women — they were simply Egyptians,” writes Egyptian journalist Ethar El-Katatney. “They stood right next to men to liberate their country… women will not — and cannot — go back to being silent.” It appears, however, that many Egyptian men would prefer their women to do just that — to shuffle back to their kitchens and stop demanding silly things like social equality and political representation in the new secular constitution of the country they have just reclaimed.
Solidarity has been the watchword of this global resistance movement, but some men seem slow to understand what that word really means. One cannot reserve solidarity for members of one’s own gender. The vomitous hypocrisy of turning patriarchal violence against one’s comrades in the same space where you fought state violence together just weeks previously should be obvious even to the mobs of men and boys currently chasing women through the streets of Cairo.