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Sunday, June 12, 2011

‘Horribly Humiliating’ – Egyptian Woman Tells of ‘Virginity Tests’

Sulaiman Kamal | 4:53 PM | | | | | | Best Blogger Tips

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The Egyptian military was celebrated for helping to facilitate a peaceful revolution there three months ago. But now accusations have surfaced that they subjected young women to degrading “virginity tests” in what appears to have been an attempt to control the population. One woman told SPIEGEL her story.

Salwa al Husseiny Gouda, 20
Before she describes how uniformed soldiers hit and kicked her and the other young women, ordering them to take off their clothes, lie on their backs in front of gawking soldiers and spread their legs so a man in a white lab coat could test their virginity — before this, the hairdresser quickly lights a cigarette and pulls the smoke deeply into her lungs.
Salwa Husseini Gouda is a petite woman with gently curved lips and almond-shaped eyes. The 20-year-old looks tired this afternoon, wearing jeans and a headscarf together with a tight-fitting top. She smokes one cigarette after another. The air is heavy with shimmering heat and the Egyptian capital is dusty and loud, as always.
“I have no idea why they arrested me, of all people, in Tahrir Square,” she says. “I was standing in front of a tank at that particular moment, maybe that’s why.” She attempts a grin. “Anyway, people should watch out for me — I’m a dangerous criminal!”
According to eyewitness reports, men stormed Tahrir Square, center of the Egyptian revolution, on the afternoon of March 9 and attacked demonstrators seemingly at random. They weren’t wearing uniforms. “They looked like thugs,” Husseini Gouda says. “They called me a whore and hit me in the face.” She says she was shocked when the group dragged her and around 20 other women into the Egyptian Museum and handed them over to the military. “I couldn’t believe our army was behind this attack,” Gouda continues. “But then they took us to a military prison, and from then on, it only got worse.”
‘Shocking and Degrading Treatment’
On the day Husseini Gouda was arrested, Hosni Mubarak, the country’s deposed president, had been in self-imposed exile in the seaside resort of Sharm el-Sheik for nearly four weeks. A month before the arrest, the masses at Tahrir Square had cheered for the military, which took over power in the country after Mubarak resigned. “The people and the army are one,” demonstrators shouted, dancing and celebrating in front of the tanks. Mothers pressed their babies into soldiers’ arms for pictures. The world watched Egypt with amazement, seeing men and women, Muslims and Christians, fighting side by side for freedom. Then, 18 days later, the revolution was, the pharaoh chased off. The people were victorious. It was a triumph that belonged to women as well — or so it seemed at the time.
When Husseini Gouda arrived at the military prison on March 9, she says she was led to a small room together with two other women. There they were forced to undress and allow their clothing to be searched. Then they noticed a soldier standing outside the open window, photographing them naked. “I was afraid they would use the pictures to make us look like prostitutes,” Husseini Gouda says.
That night, the women were locked in a cell and given water and bread that stank of kerosene. The next day, they saw a stretcher in the hallway outside their cell. Here, an officer announced, a doctor would inspect the unmarried women for virginity. “We couldn’t believe it,” Husseini Gouda says. “We asked if it could at least be a female doctor, but he said no. One girl who tried to resist was plied with electroshocks.”
Several human rights organizations are investigating the events that occurred at the military prison in Heikstep northeast of Cairo between March 9 and 13. Amnesty International has called on Egyptian authorities to “stop the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters.” The European Parliament denounced the “forced virginity tests” as torture.
Psychiatrist Mona Hamed, from El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, has documented statements from several of the women who were arrested on March 9, including Husseini Gouda. Hamed’s conclusion: “What’s new is that it isn’t the police or the secret police behind this, but the military.” The virginity tests, she says, send a message to the people, because the army wants to control citizens’ freedom of movement. If a woman at a demonstration were beaten or arrested, Hamed says, her family would perhaps be able to accept that — but not the charge that their daughter is a prostitute. “That’s an unthinkable humiliation for the woman and her family,” she explains.

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