There was another painful reminder of the dangers faced by women in Egypt after the story of another attack on a Western journalist that sound painfully similar to the sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan last year.
Natasha Smith, a freelance reporter and grad student who was in Egypt working on a documentary about women's rights since the revolution, wrote on her blog that she was attacked by a mob of men near Tahrir Square, apparently not long after the announcment of the winner of the presidetial election over the weekend. Smith says she was beaten, stripped of her clothes and sexually assaulted, and might have been killed had a group of local men not disguised her and helped her escape the area. (She was later subjected to further humiliations at hospitals where she was asked by doctors if she was married or still a virgin.)
I began to think, “maybe this is just it. Maybe this is how I go, how I die. I’ve had a good life. Whether I live or die, this will all be over soon. Maybe this is my punishment for some of the emotional pain I’ve caused others through some foolish mistakes and poor judgement recently. I hope it’s quick. I hope I die before they rape me.”
Smith believes the attack may have been prompted by rumors that she was a foreign spy, a common danger for outside journalists trying to cover the revolution Egypt. Distrust of outsiders is so great (an concept heavily endorsed by the government) that there was even a series of television ads earlier this year pushing the idea that foreigners should not be trusted.
Logan's attack was almost identical: it came during a celebration (the night former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down last February) and like Smith she easily stands out as both a non-Egyptian and a journalist. (Smith was carrying a camera at the time of the attack, which was stolen.) Logan herself praised Smith for telling her story in such detail, though she told the Committee to Protect Journalists that her account was difficult to read: "the way the mob came after her; the way the men looked--so close to you--and the faces of the people who looked away." Still, Logan said it's important for people to understand how horrific this abuse can be. "It's a systematic campaign against journalists, who are enemies of the state," she told CPJ. "They want to get the foreign media out. They don't want foreigners from the media, aid organizations, or doing democracy work. We are regarded as a threat to the regime."
There were some people on Twitter and in the comments of Smith's post that were skeptical of the story, and there is so far no independent corroboration. But for women -- whether they're Egyptian or not, journalists or not -- in Egypt it's an all too familiar story. Since the fall of Mubarak and the democratic fever sweeping the nations, there continue be near constant reports of harassment and abuse for any woman who ventures into the chaotic crowds of Tahrir Square and other demonstration sites.
There's Logan herself, who also provided little "evidence" beyond her own testimony, but was still taken at face value. Journalist Mona Eltahaway had both her arms broken during an assault by security forces last November. There's this infamous video of a unidentified woman, already unconscious and with her shirt torn off, being kicked and beaten by riot cops. A man in Alexandria reportedly beat his pregnant wife to death because she didn't vote for his candidate in the presidential election. Twitter user @Shartbatqeteesh, who said that she met Smith in Cairo before Sunday, claims to know of two friends who suffered similar attacks by mobs in the Square. These are just a handful of the stories that have come of out Egypt in the last year, and there's little doubt that more abuse, ranging from minor harassment to violent attacks, happen on a regular basis.
it seems journos here must have evidence to support sexual attack 'claims' by women but report many other types attacks in protests/city— Sharbat Qetesh (@sharbatqetesh) June 27, 2012
As Eltahawy's wrote in her controversial Foreign Policy story, "Why Do They Hate Us?" the Arab Spring has been a great revolution for the world, but not always beneficial for the women of the Middle East. "Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun."