by Luna

by Luna



Blog Intro

Hello, I'm Luna, and I'd like to welcome you to "Kisses from Kairo,"* my blog about living and working as an American belly dancer in Cairo.

Life in Cairo isn't easy for dancers, foreigners, women, or even Egyptians. It is, however, always exciting. That’s why after living here for seven years, I've decided to share my experiences with the world. From being contracted at the Semiramis Hotel to almost being deported, not a day has gone by without something odd or magical happening. I will therefore fill these pages with bits of my history in Cairo—my experiences, successes, mistakes, and observations. Admittedly, my time here has been rather unique, so I want to stress that while everything I write is true, my experiences do not necessarily reflect the lives of other dancers.

In addition to my life as a belly dancer, I will write about developments in costuming, performances, festivals, and, of course, the dance itself. I will also make frequent references to Egyptian culture. I should note that I have a love/hate relationship with Egypt. If I make any criticisms about the country, please keep in mind that I do so with the utmost love, respect, and most of all, honesty. Egypt has become my home, so I want to avoid romanticizing and apologizing for social maladies, as most foreigners tend to do. Nothing could be more misguided, patronizing, or insulting.

I hope you find this blog informative, insightful and entertaining, and that we can make this as interactive as possible. That means I'd love to hear from you. Send me your comments, questions, complaints, suggestions, pics, doctoral dissertations, money, etc., and I will get back to you. Promise. :)~

My Videos

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Politics of Harassment

“Egyptian women sexually harassed at anti-harassment rally,” read this week's headlines.  Well isn’t that ironic? 

On Friday, a few hundred women staged an anti-harassment rally to protest the sexual harassment that is ubiquitous in Egypt.  Male supporters formed a protective circle around them, only to be overwhelmed by hordes of violent young men who sexually assaulted some of the protesting women.  

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when women stand up for themselves in Egypt.   

Wait, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn.  Let’s look at the bright side.  Some Egyptian women and men are starting to recognize that sexual harassment is a HUGE problem and are willing to do something about it.  It’s unfortunate that it took several instances of revolution-related gang rape for them to wake up, but at least they’ve awoken.  Better late than never. :/

Let’s face it though.  Hatred of women is deeply entrenched in this society.  As it is in many places...but especially in the Arab world.  And the nasty combination of religious extremism, culture, and testosterone is to blame.  

Before you accuse me of propagating negative stereotypes, please note that I’ve already anticipated that accusation, and quite frankly, don’t care.  I have an advanced degree from an elite university and am fully aware that what I’m saying is neither politically correct nor culturally sensitive.  That’s because I’m more interested in the truth than in being “sensitive” to people who are insensitive towards women.  This, plus the fact that I actually live here, gives me license to say things as they are.  I couldn’t do that when I was in Harvard, 5,000 miles away.  I didn’t have the “on site” experience to back up my claims.  More importantly, the cultural sensitivity mafia would have hung me from my nonexistent pelotas.  

For some reason, we “liberated” westerners get all bent out of shape when someone suggests that misogyny is one of the main pillars of Middle Eastern cultures.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.  How else do you explain what happened this Friday?  How else do you explain all the instances of gang rape that happen anytime there’s a massive protest at Tahrir?  To what do we attribute the high rates of domestic violence?  Of female circumcision?  Of the honor killings that happen from time to time?

I’ll tell you how average Egyptians explain Friday’s events.  According to them, remnants of Mubarak’s regime paid “thugs” to rape the women in order to soil the image of the revolution.  Not just this past Friday, but every Friday that this has happened.  Fine.  Let’s assume for argument’s sake that this is true.  It’s still no excuse.  Those so-called “thugs” are Egyptian like everyone else.  And I don’t care how much they need the money.  There are millions of poor people who wouldn’t engage in that behavior if you gave them the world.  Conversely, whoever is capable of committing such atrocities for money is capable of committing them without money.  The problem isn’t poverty.  It’s misogyny.  

The other popular explanation for what happened is the lack of security in Egypt.  Um, hello?  Since when has lack of security been an excuse to assault women?  Decent human beings don’t need a police force breathing down their necks not to rape women.  

All of this strangely reminds me of Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years back. As Hurricane Katrina demonstrated, the aftermath of a natural disaster creates perfect conditions for lawlessness.  As the Japanese tsunami demonstrated, that doesn't necessarily have to happen.  Indeed, the world lauded the Japanese for upholding the highest moral standards during a time when they would have had the perfect excuse not to.  This proves that lawlessness is not an unavoidable result of a diminished police force, but a choice that people make.

Similarly, the violent misogynistic crimes women have suffered after the revolution are not an inevitable result of the regime retracting its security apparatus. They are the result of evil choices that individual men make.  As such, they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Except, there is no law criminalizing sexual harassment in Egypt.  Liberals have been pushing for one for some time now, but to no avail.  They’re outnumbered by all those who believe that a woman gets what she deserves.  If she’s harassed, it’s because she dresses and/or behaves inappropriately.  If she’s raped, well, she must have done something to bring that about too.  Harassment is thus considered to be the woman’s fault.  Men are immune to any and all blame. 

Some of the laws on women being considered right now are ones that will roll back the marriage age for girls from 18 to 14 years old, and ones that would give a man the right to have intercourse with the corpse of his wife, up to 6 hours after death.  At that rate, I don’t think Egypt will be passing an anti-harassment law any time soon.

In thinking about the current status of Egyptian women, I find myself thinking about the women back home.  How did they get to where they are now?  What was their women’s rights movement like?  What kinds of rights did they fight for?  Did they encounter the same violent responses as today’s Egyptian women? 

I’m no expert on women's issues, but the impression I got from my high school history classes was that American women fought for the right to vote, the right to work outside the home, and (still) the right to obtain an abortion.  Basically, women wanted the right to exist as intellectual beings just like their male counterparts.  Compare that with women’s issues in the Middle East in this day and age.  Sure, Middle Eastern women can vote, and some do work outside the home.  Heck, they’ve even had the right to inherit and divorce (under limited circumstances) long before Western women did.  But what good is all that when they don’t have a right to their clitorises?  When they don't have the right to live if they "fcuk up" before marriage?  What good is it if they don't have the basic right to safety on their own streets or in their own homes?   When men can verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abuse women with absolutely no fear of condemnation, let alone a prison sentence?  

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not condemning an entire culture or region.  I do realize there are some extremely enlightened Middle Eastern men out there working with women to create a better future.  And that there are liberated women in Egypt. Yet they are a small minority.  I also realize that crimes against women happen all over the world, including the West...

…Yet it seems to be a real problem in the Arab world.  That’s probably because there’s still no stigma attached to it.  In the States for example, if a man assaults a woman, there’s a good chance he’ll go to jail.  More importantly, he’ll earn the disdain of mostly everyone who knows him, and, quite possibly, his parents and male children.  The fact that men who harm women suffer severe legal and social consequences in the west has resulted in a decrease of the amount of violence against women over the years—domestic violence at least.   

On the other hand, men in the Middle East don’t suffer the same consequences for their misogyny.  They don’t fall into disfavor with society, and they certainly don’t go to jail for it.  As for the female victims, there are no services available to them.  There are no shelters for battered women.  There is no one offering them psychological help.  At best, they are treated as if nothing happened.  At worst, they are blamed for provoking the wrath or sexual desires of men, depending on what kind of attack they suffered.  And in most cases, they don't tell anyone they've been abused.  So the next time someone tells you the Middle East boasts lower rates of violence against women than the West, realize that that's a pile of sh!t.  Women just aren't speaking out.

Which brings me to my next point.  The biggest problem isn’t necessarily the men who do the violence.  It’s the men who excuse or fail to condemn that behavior who are the real problem.  There needs to be enough men, not just women, willing to take a definitive stance against misogynistic violence…willing to teach their sons not to engage in it, and their daughters not to tolerate it.  Until that happens, there will be no progress.

Men will not be enlightened, however, until more women make a concerted effort to publicly denounce misogyny.  As sorry as I am for all the female victims of Tahrir Fridays, I’m afraid it’s going to take a lot more of that before they even begin to make an impact on male consciousness.  It won’t be easy, and it will most likely be met with more violence.  But that's the cost of progress in Egypt.

Progress is going to take numbers though, and frequency.  In order for these protests to mean anything, they have to include a much wider spectrum of the female population.  A few hundred women from the elite classes staging a women’s rally every now and then will not get the job done.  Egyptians don’t take minorities seriously, especially those they consider “radical.”  But if women from all levels of society start demanding safety in the streets and in their homes, Egypt will be forced to listen.  

I’m by no means overly optimistic.  I do realize that there are obstacles to women’s mobilization.  The first and most important being violence.  A woman who leaves the kitchen to go out and demand her rights will most likely suffer violence when she returns.  There’s a good chance that her manfolk, be they husbands, fathers, or brothers, will punish her for her “misbehavior.”  Not to mention the violence she will encounter on the streets.

The second impediment to women’s mobilization is consciousness.  I could be wrong, but I have a lingering suspicion that most women aren’t aware that things could be better.  I’m not sure they even recognize abuse for what it is.  Abuse is such a constant in many women’s lives that they don’t necessarily see it as wrong.  What makes this even worse is that for lots of women, there’s no point of comparison.  Most of their female neighbors and relatives lead similar lives.  They don’t have access to upper class lifestyles, unless they work as cleaning women for rich, liberated Egyptians.  

Which begs the question….Can women be oppressed if they don’t realize they are? 

If a tree falls in a forest, and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound? 

Thirdly, most women lack the educational tools with which to demand better.  According to The Council for Women in Egypt 50% of Egyptian women are illiterate.  I don’t think I need to explain what a hindrance this is to mobilization. 

These are the reasons women haven’t been active enough in criminalizing misogyny, and why society still sees it as normal… 

…which it is.  I don’t know what the biological or psychological reasons for it are, but I’m utterly convinced that misogyny comes naturally to men (and some women).  As does prejudice, greed, ambition, and uncircumcised penises (:D). They have been known to every society and every time.  But that doesn’t mean these things are good.  “Natural” and “good” aren’t always one and the same.  We inherited this world from its creator in its natural state, but the creator also gave us the brains to make it better.  We do this physically with things like technology… and C-sections.  We do this mentally with social conditioning. 

Men have to be conditioned out of their misogyny.  And women have to be the ones to do it.  Of course, they are going to need the help of men along the way, but the main impetus needs to come from women. The goal is for women to reach the point where they realize they have options.  Because options are what make people human.  They force us to exercise reason, and thus set us apart from animals.  

Until that happens, we cannot honestly use the word “revolution” to describe what happened in Egypt.  Revolution means change, but everything is exactly as it was before Mubarak stepped down.  People are still close-minded.  Women are still oppressed.  The poor are still poor and the rich are still rich.  And none of that will change until Egypt recognizes the dignity of its women.  Legally, socially, and politically.

You can check out my previous post on women's issues here: The Frustrated Feminist.


  1. Thank you for this insightful post. I will be moving to Egypt in October with my husband and daughter and knew of the mistreatment of and disrespect towards women in general, but your details open my mind to a whole new level of (sad and disgusted) awareness. It is better to be informed than not, but the reality of women's suffering is disheartening. :(

    1. Thank you for reading, and I wish you a pleasant stay in Egypt. Hope my post didn't discourage you too much. :/

  2. Hi Luna,

    Thanks for writing this! What do you think of the role of mothers? I think many are raising their sons to see girls and women solely as instruments to cater to the needs of boys and men.

  3. Hi Judith,
    Yes I think you're right about that. Mothers have not been instrumental in trying to engender any kind of change. But more than raising their sons to see women this way, I think it's an issue of them raising their daughters to play certain roles. They don't teach their daughters that they have options in life, and that they don't have to settle for a life of servitude. Again, I don't blame them. They are only teaching what they know. And obviously I'm talking about the majority here, not all Egyptian women. But yes, this is a very male dominated society, so the needs of boys and men are the priorities of women and girls. :/

  4. I have been very interested to read your blog - except that it is difficult to read - white on black makes my eyes go funny - may be just me but with the very distinctive background it is harder and not easy on the eyes as maybe some other colour combinations could be?

    I'm trying not to be depressed about the whole situation and I expect that I shall never actually visit Egypt now :(

    1. Hi Susan,
      A lot of people have complained about the color scheme, actually. I would do something about it but I don't know how. :) As for coming to Egypt, do. Now is the time, before things get worse, and before they think about banning tourism. Everything will be fine so long as you use common sense and avoid crowded areas. I seriously encourage you to come. :)

  5. Great post, but I'm not sure I can agree that all men are born misgynistic. It's all about the way they are taught to see women and girls. When we can change this worldwide, not just the Arab world, then we can call ourselves 'civilised'. Until then I'll keep fighting in this corner of the world and try to support our sisters in the Arab world too.

  6. Thanks for your comment. I realize a lot of people have a problem with my assertion that men's default setting is misogynistic. I could be totally wrong, and there's no way to prove these things. It's just what seems to me, considering that every culture in every time struggles with this problem, and that it always takes a massive effort by women to get men to stop. Don't know, but I agree that we need to keep on fighting for gender justice. Thanks again and all the best. :)

  7. I am Middle Eastern. I stopped reading your article when you mentioned Middle Eastern Women do not have a right to their clitoris.You are spreading misinformation and lies. Never in my life have I heard of FGM or known any women in the ME to practice this. It is commonly practiced in Africa, and that includes Egypt, the Levant most N. Africans and Gulf Arabs do not practice FGM. I heard of rare cases in southern Yemen where there is a large east African community there.

    1. Thanks for your comment. When I said to "Middle Eastern women," I was referring to North African women. I was referring to North Africa in the sense of it being part of the Greater Middle East, which at times includes Pakistan and Afghanistan and the ex-Soviet republics. Sorry if you were offended, and you are under no obligation to read this blog. Thanks for your comment, and I hope I made myself clear.

    2. By the way, if I'm brave enough to put my name on these "lies and disinformation," you should be brave enough to put your name on your truth.