Angry over the military’s abuse of women during recent protests in Tahrir Square, an estimated 10,000 women marched through the streets of Cairo on Dec. 20 demanding an end to military rule.
Video and still images of women being stripped, beaten and kicked by soldiers during protests over the previous weekend have circulated throughout Egypt, sparking widespread indignation among women. Many of the women in the streets had never protested before.
One image in particular has become iconic, that of a young woman whose outer garment has been ripped off, revealing her blue bra. One soldier has his leg raised just as he is about to kick her in the chest, and in addition, videos show soldiers beating her and the bystanders who tried to help her.
“Drag me, strip me, my brothers’ blood will cover me!” chanted the protesters. They also demanded to see the head of the military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chanting, “The daughters of Egypt are here!”
Egypt’s military rulers were already under fire from human rights groups for performing “virginity tests” on several women arrested after a protest in March. Soldiers repressing protests on Dec. 17 and 18 evidently thought that by shaming and injuring women they would discourage others from protesting. However, the strategy backfired and many more women have been galvanized into action.
Women were at the forefront of the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last February, although few women won seats in the early rounds of parliamentary elections.
During previous weeks, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has portrayed protesters as thugs, vandals and arsonists. However, the unexpected size and militancy of the women’s march put the military government on the defensive, forcing it to take back some of its rhetoric.
“The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces expresses its utmost sorrow for the great women of Egypt, for the violations that took place during the recent events,” the council said in a statement. “It stresses its great appreciation for the women of Egypt.”
Even Hillary Clinton was forced to denounce the Egyptian military’s abuses; however, U.S. aid to the dictatorship continues. For FY2012, the Obama administration has requested $1.551 billion in total aid to Egypt.
The march against SCAF’s violence represents a significant increase in the participation of women in the ongoing Egyptian revolution. The women in Cairo chanted, “The daughters of Egypt are a red line.” This is reminiscent of a slogan from the South African struggle against apartheid: “Now you have touched the woman, you have struck a rock, you have dislodged a boulder and you will be crushed.”