“There are no Rules” – Violation and Rape
of the Female Body at Tahrir Square

Migrating the Feminine:
The Female Body as Space

In November 2012, gang rapes occurred in Tahrir Square. Several women were raped by groups of men in the square and in the streets surrounding it. In one case there was almost seventy men exchanging one woman. The event took place under the rule of the military council. It is said that it was partly an organized crime to use public rape as a political weapon against women, to intimidate them and make them retreat from the public sphere. Those who adopted this theory did not accuse the military council for ordering the act, they accused national security. The women there were all active during the revolution. They were known. Yet, it is also clear that besides this potential scenario, several men just gathered spontaneously in the square and participated in the rapes.

The rapes took a very systematic form, men would create a circle around the victim so that she was completely trapped, she wouldn’t be able to get out, nor would any intruder would be allowed in. The crowds of men were very cleverly cooperating: some would hold the victim while others enjoyed her, then they would exchange places automatically, and while some just watched, others were trying to catch whatever was possible to catch from her. Then the crowd would also carry the victim to pass her on from one section of the circle to the other. She would be carried by the hands of her perpetrators as if on an ocean wave, only to be put down again and be raped. In this everlasting rape some used tools or sharp weapons, most of the others used their fingers.

As the victim was crying for help she found new men trying to break inside the circle to catch her, but soon she would discover that they were there to rape her as well. In some absurd situation, there was a man raping the victim while also trying to move her outside of the circle of the other men. The women fought back fiercely, bravely. They were the true heroines of the revolution, and they will forever remain anonymous.

The rapes repeated again months later, once more, and twice. Always in the square. The act happens in a very systematic yet primitive way, the beast within breaks through and calls for bestial energies. The aggression, the screaming, the circles, the waves of exchanging the female body, the hands and legs and fingers molding her, and the openness of the public space with spectators, cars and all the aspects of daily life: a complete ritual of taking over the female body as space. Very few men tried to rescue the victims; those who did were tortured for their attempts. The general scene was similar to a volcano of sheer madness where the frantic energy of male bonding broke all barriers. The victim was a tool to execute that bonding, a mere vehicle for the projection of the male power. Those men did not sexually want the female, they only wanted the act of proving their masculinity via her body. Her body the offering for such an ancient ritual of collective sex. This time with only one female in the middle of the act. In this case, the female body would be the space for the ritual of passage of the men. The reason they managed to cooperate so perfectly together and create this “rape system” is due to how they all became one at that moment. They were achieving their long lost masculinity, in public and in front of everybody and in Tahrir Square!

All the rapes of Tahrir Square are political whether they were pre-meditated or not. They remain political because they took place in the politically iconic location of Tahrir Square. Raping a woman there is like raping the square itself, raping the revolution, raping Egypt. The fact that the rapes occurred in an open public and political space puts the whole operation into political discourse. The female body was the only possible medium through which people can change the meaning, value and image of Tahrir Square. If women are the mark of honor in the Egyptian patriarchal society, if a woman’s chastity is the proof of her father’s honor, if a girl’s virginity is the stamp of the honor of her family, and if women in Tahrir Square are symbols of the women of Egypt and of Egypt, then all the rapes of Tahrir are direct messages of violation to the national feeling and the national identity. They are violations of a nation’s dignity. A nation’s dignity was once represented in the massive crowds standing in Tahrir crying out for freedom and justice and dignity, now Tahrir was location for the violation of all of those crowds’ dignity.

Against all the cultural and social background of covering the female body, of chastity and veil, of confinement and of negating physicality and sensuality to the female, a naked woman was walking in the square next to a policeman. The image was part of a video on youtube. The woman was gang raped in the square the night before president EL-Sissi came to power. The policeman in the video was the one who finally managed to rescue her. This time there was a mood of celebration in the square, the majority of Egyptians wanted El-Sissi as president, within that carnival the woman was gang raped. The short video was taken by a mobile phone and uploaded on YouTube. Everybody criticized the man who had taken the video because he destroyed the reputation of that woman, because he helped people to see her naked body online, because he made her features more or less known. For those people, the man who uploaded the video contributed to the symbolic public assassination of that woman. For me, the public assassination occurred without the video, the moment of the actual rape in Tahrir Square is the moment of symbolic public assassination, not only of that woman but of all Egyptian women and men. Uploading the video keeps a trace of the actual event, gives the victim a face, and actually turns her into a heroine. A heroine is one that is not ashamed of her own survival. A heroine who walks with her naked body across the square while nobody cares to cover her or give her a piece of clothing. A heroine walking naked and defiantly next to a policeman. There is no shame in having it on video and sharing it, there is only honor. That woman can never be shamed; it is everybody else who is shamed by her heroic figure to the extent that they want to erase it from any media archive. They want to erase her because they are afraid for their own bodies that are projected onto hers, and vice-versa. They are afraid just like the brothers of Rokstan, the young Syrian woman who was raped in Syria and later killed by her family in Germany out of shamed, because her mere existence was a proof of their own failure.

In Rokstan and in the woman of Tahrir Square, I saw the girl who was dancing in the Pharonic temple. The me/dancer/child in my old repetitive dream. Only this time she was dancing naked and the temple was crowded.

I totally identified with the body of the naked woman. I felt “naked” as well. Her bare feet stepping on the asphalt of Tahrir were printing the traces of all the Egyptian women. She was carrying us forward, and I was “carrying” her in me. She was me.

This essay is a part of a new publication by Nora Amin: “Migrating the Feminine” (2016), a personal, strong and political essay sketching the transgression of the female physicality in public sphere. It was published by 60pages in cooperation with with MiCT/Berlin, where it can be read in full length.
Nora Amin, Egyptian writer, performer and director, is currently IRC-Fellow at the Center.