Acid attacks in Egypt

At Women Under Siege, Reem Abdel-Razek writes about a recent incident in Cairo.

A few weeks ago I received a message from a friend in Cairo about a horrible attack on her sister, Esraa Mohamed. Esraa was walking in her own neighborhood at 3 p.m. when she realized she was being followed by a well-dressed, respectable looking stranger. He said, “I am not harassing you but don’t forget to wipe off your pants.”

She suddenly began to feel a burning pain in her backside and rushed into a cafe to see what was wrong. It was then that she realized she couldn’t remove her pants and took a cab home. By that time the pain was so excruciating that she almost fainted; her buttocks and the back of her thighs had been burned by acid that had eaten into her flesh. The doctor who examined her said she had second and third-degree burns, with cell necrosis in some areas. The diagnosis was “chemical burn by an unidentified corrosive.”

Esraa described the attack to a journalist friend who wrote a story about it. After she spoke out, she received messages from other girls who said the same thing had happened to them, but they had not told anyone or come forward because they were ashamed and embarrassed. She also received several messages on Facebook saying she’d deserved what happened to her for not wearing the veil.

How pathetic is it that part of my reaction to that story is relief that it wasn’t her face? Oh thank you so much, well-dressed stranger, for throwing your acid at women’s bums instead of their eyes and mouths and noses. At least Esraa Mohamed isn’t blind now, at least she can still eat and drink and talk.

Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, there has been much commentary about sexual harassment and violence against women in Egypt. Many believe the attacks on women in Tahrir Square were initiated by mobs hired by Egypt’s security forces as a means of intimidation, similar to the “virginity tests” forced upon some of the girls who were arrested during a protest in March 2011. They see violence against women as a means of scaring them away from political activity. While this is true, it is only part of the explanation: Violence against women in Egypt long precedes the revolutions of the last three years.

It has been growing for decades. A study done in 2008 showed that 83 percent of women get harassed in Egypt. But numbers alone cannot show how scary the harassment is, how it makes women feel, and how their families usually blame them instead of the men who harassed them.

The role of Islamist propaganda in promoting the acceptance of violence against women often gets overlooked by those who are afraid of appearing “Islamophobic” or racist. But addressing the roots of violence against women is one of the most important steps in eradicating it.

Reem Abdel-Razek and the Centre for Secular Space set up a Facebook group, You are not alone, where you can send messages to Esraa Mohamed.


  1. says

    The role of Islamist propaganda in promoting the acceptance of violence against women often gets overlooked by those who are afraid of appearing “Islamophobic” or racist.

    Exactly. Add to that a heavy dollop of cultural relativism, which seeks to enforce a needless dichotomy between the East and the West. And not all who consider themselves “progressive” and “liberal” are free of this – as we have amply seen in recent times.

    That said, there is one argument I’d like to make in this specific context. While organized religion does abet and enable the acceptance of violence against women (and must be called out on every single instance of this), in certain corners of the world, the perpetration of violence against women has gone beyond the traditional creed-based rationale and has become simply a matter of power and control.

    In India and Bangladesh, there has been a significant increase recently in the spate of acid attacks against women by men because of all sorts of reasons – which are not religious in nature. At all. I don’t know whether this state of affairs already persisted and is being increasingly brought to public attention now, or whether there has been an increase. My gut feeling goes with the latter, based on all sorts of reactions observed at all levels of the society – a reaction of the patriarchal structure which has become acutely aware of a gradual but inexorable loss of power and control over the women with time.

    There is a Stop Acid Attack page on Facebook. CAVEAT: it contains graphic images of victims. If you can stomach those, please visit the page and support them. Acid-attack victims, who have been fortunate to remain alive, are trying to fight back and make a positive change in the society. These women deserve all our attention and voices, not to mention, financial support.

  2. says

    But, Kausik, if the various organised religions thought there was anything particularly bad about people going beyond religiously sanctioned violence, one would expect them to speak out about it. At least, one would if they were really the guardians of morality they purport to be. But, in a way this is irrelevant, for in a society where it is accepted that the most Holy,the most Godly, the most pious can throw acid at women with impunity, it’s easy to see why others might feel entitled to do the same.

  3. theobromine says

    How pathetic is it that part of my reaction to that story is relief that it wasn’t her face?

    That was my reaction as well. Pathetic for a start, followed by reinforcement of my continuing dismayed astonishment that there are really people in this world who think that this sort of thing is a morally justifiable act.

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