Egyptian woman tells of ‘virginity tests’

Der Spiegel reports:

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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