Egyptian Female Demonstrators Forced to Undergo Virginity Tests

Call me a cynic, but I just don’t believe much good can come when the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” is running a country as it now is in Egypt, especially given that they were “handed the power to govern by its departing President Hosni Mubarak.”  I’m not the only one who is cynical.  Even after Mubarak left the country on February 11th, several pro-democracy protesters remained in Tahrir Square and were willing to wait it out until their demands had been met, specifically “a definite timetable for a transfer of power to a new, democratically-elected government.”

The military had been “expected to ban strikes in an effort to prevent further unrest,” and defying a military order has its consequences.   Military men often have just one way of dealing with agitators like sending in “gangs in street
clothes” to “seize and beat demonstrators.”  Once demonstrators were beaten, they were then arrested and, according to eyewitness accounts documented by Human Rights Watch, “The army removed 190 of those detained in Tahrir on March 9 to military prisons, with plans to interrogate them over the next few days.”

Amnesty International believes “at least 18 women were held in military detention.”  During their detention, the women “were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges.”

Oddly, in Amnesty International’s statement they feel the need to clarify that “‘Virginity tests’ are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.”  As if any woman would gladly partake in a virginity test.  I think we can stipulate to the fact the “virginity tests” are always wrong.

Amnesty International interviewed on young women who claimed “after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window.  During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.  The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution.”

Although women were credited with playing a role in helping to topple Mubarak, their taste of freedom has been short-lived.  Those of us from the west find the treatment of women in the Middle East disconcerting.  What is it about this culture that not only degrades women, but demeans them publicly.  Until these attitudes change, the Middle East will never be truly democratic.  There can be no real freedom if an entire community actively engages in destroying the very person that gave them life.

African-American Singer Marian Anderson put it best, “As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might. ”

Let’s see if they choose to soar.  Women around the world are watching.