Sadly, CBS reporter Lara Logan's sexual assault in Cairo last week is but one instance of a crime that is all too common in Africa. Until Friday, the women of Egypt had found the protests notable for the lack of harassment, but the attack on Logan was a brutal reminder of their daily realities. We can only hope political change in Egypt also brings a change in attitude towards women. By COURTNEY BROOKS.
The historic day that saw Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak step down from power and inspired the world to believe in the possibility of change was marred by the sexual assault on CBS journalist Lara Logan. On 11 February, Logan, the network’s chief foreign correspondent, sustained a “brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers,” stated CBS on Tuesday.
She was separated from her crew in the crush of more than 200 people “whipped into frenzy”, which CBS called “a dangerous element amidst the celebration”. She was then sexually assaulted and beaten.
Sexual assaults of the kind suffered by Logan, however, are sadly nothing new in either Egypt or the rest of Africa. There will undoubtedly be debates as to why it takes the assault of a beautiful, white, acclaimed international journalist to bring attention to the rape crisis which spans the entire continent. But the important thing is that Logan's bravery in making the assault public knowledge will bring that desperately needed attention to the plight of millions of African and Middle Eastern women.
Logan is now recovering at home in the US. At least 140 reporters have been injured or killed covering the news in Egypt since 30 January. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that during the 18 days of rallies, the Mubarak regime specifically targeted journalists in their vain attempts to keep information about its violent crackdown on protesters – including beatings, electrocutions and rapes – from reaching the outside world.
Two of my colleagues, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists Robert Tait and Abdelilah Nuaimi, both British citizens though one of Iraqi birth, were detained in Egypt for more than 24 hours. Nuaimi was threatened with rape upon arrival at the detention centre, and perhaps only saved from sexual assault by telling the guards he no longer had Iraqi citizenship. Nuaimi later translated for Tait some of the things their captors had shouted at the detainees, including: “In this hotel, we only have two things on the menu for those who don't behave – electrocution and rape.”
Despite the extreme measures by the regime to silence reporters, the brave reporting done by journalists such as Logan revealed the abuses to the international community. But Logan's case stands out from all others both because the attack was sexual in nature and because reports say circumstantial evidence indicates that the attackers were not likely associated with Mubarak's regime.
The attack tarnished the 18 days of protests which were marked by a surprising lack of reported sexual harassment - a daily struggle in Egypt for both foreign and local women. Egyptian Samer Osman told RFE/RL: “Actually it was the first time in my life (I could) go down the streets and not be harassed at all. It was the perfect week. Really, it was utopia,” she said. “The days of protests were utopia because not one man looked at me in a sexual way at all. Actually they were very, very protective of us.”
Associated Press reported women complaining of being stared at, shouted at and groped the night Mubarak was brought down, a sharp contrast from their treatment during the rest of the revolt. “All the men were very respectful during the revolution,” Nawla Darwiche, an Egyptian feminist, told AP. “Sexual harassment didn't occur during the revolt. It occurred that night. I was personally harassed that night.”
In South Africa, where Logan grew up and attended university, there were 68,332 reported sexual offenses between April 2009 and March 2010 - only a fraction of the total number of sexual assaults. Most go unreported. In a 2009 nationwide survey by the BBC, one in four South African men admitted to have raped someone.
The male-dominated culture in most African states, including the continent's economic powerhouses Egypt and South Africa, has created an environment where sexual assault and rape are pervasive, nearly socially accepted and often go unpunished. In The Democratic Republic of Congo rape is used as a weapon of war. In many Middle Eastern and African countries, including Egypt, marital rape is not illegal and spousal abuse is rampant. These social norms are not created by religion, race or economy. They are created when men hold all the cards; when women are objectified and seen as subordinate.
For 18 days in Tahrir Square Egyptians created a microcosm of what their society could look like: A place where women were gratefully accepted as integral to the movement and even protected by their fellow protesters; a place other African and Middle Eastern countries could look up to. We can only hope Logan's horrific experience will bring change to Egypt and its neighbours across the continent, both in the attitudes of men and the policies of governments. FAM
- An Island In An Orgy Of Violence – A Firsthand Account Of Being Detained In Cairo, in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- Egyptian Women Play Vital Role In Anti-Mubarak Protests, in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
- Egyptian women's issues highlighted by Logan case, in Yahoo News, via AP.
Courtney Brooks is a fellow at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague, the Czech Republic. Previously, she has spent more than a year living and travelling through Africa. Although she spent the majority of her time in South Africa writing for The Cape Times, Agence France Presse, The Associated Press and US website GlobalPost, she has also travelled through Namibia, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar and Zambia. Courtney, who grew up in Williston, Vermont, is an unrepentant travel addict and has also lived in Spain, Cuba and Ireland. During her undergraduate studies at Northeastern University in Boston she completed internships at The Boston Globe's editorial page and news desk, The Irish Times in Dublin, Ireland and The Havana Times in Havana, Cuba. In her free time Courtney enjoys photography, learning languages and reading.
Photo: CBS Correspondent Lara Logan is pictured in Cairo's Tahrir Square moments before she was assaulted in this photograph taken on February 11, 2011 and released on February 15, 2011. The network said Logan, who was covering celebrations in Tahrir Square after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, was in a crowd of 200 people who were whipped into a frenzy when she was separated from her crew. "She was surrounded and suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 Egyptian soldiers," CBS said. REUTERS/CBS News.