On International Women’s Day, Mideast women wage fierce resistance
Egyptian activists demonstrate in front of Cairo's high court in Egypt. Among the slogans on the signs, "We do not want the Egyptian woman to be a second-class citizen." | Amr Nabil / AP

Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the hope is that brave women in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia will not be forgotten. Many women in those countries wage a struggle for their very lives every single day. They have long roads to travel before they can even begin to achieve small degrees of empowerment including freedom of speech, the right to participate in political activity, and the right to live free of discrimination and violence.

For many of them, each day brings new persecution including physical and sexual abuse, detention and forced disappearance, torture, and rape. According to credentialed human rights agencies and testimony of survivor victims and eyewitnesses, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are two examples of countries where women have been suffering persecution.

Among their crimes against humanity, the Egyptian 2013 military coup authorities, under the leadership of General Abdelfattah Al-Sisi, have been committing countless crimes against women. Among the horrible cases were those of Nada Ashraf, who was raped in a police vehicle in 2013 and Dahab Hamdy, who was forced to give birth while handcuffed in 2014.

Among the ugliest of cases was the brutal persecution of Zubida Ibrahim, who suffered many violations of her human rights. This case stands as an example of the savageness of Egypt’s military coup government.

On February 23, 2018, the BBC presented a report entitled, “The Shadow over Egypt.” This documentary highlighted the tragedy of Zubida Ibrahim’s as told by her mother.

Zubida, a 23-year-old Egyptian woman, was studying Commerce at Cairo University.

For Zubida and her mother, the trouble started in 2014 when they were just passing by a protest rally and were arrested – they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Describing what happened to them in the jail, Zubida’s mother said, “For 14 hours, they kept beating us, and insulting us. They stripped us, and electrocuted us. They wanted us to confess to things that we had not done like planning to blow up a hotel and having weapons. I heard Zubida’s voice screaming, ‘Help me Mother.’ I couldn’t see her but I told her, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ When I refused to confess they threatened to rape my daughter in front of me.”

Zubida and her mother were detained for seven months but were later acquitted.

On July 15th, 2016, Zubida was forcibly disappeared – for the first time. Some 28 days later, she was dumped by the roadside – blindfolded, her hands and legs tied, her clothing torn, and wearing no underwear. When her mother was helping her to wash, she found cuts on Zubida’s body, and marks from electric shocks. Zubida told her mother that she was tortured and raped by police. She had to be hospitalized for post-trauma disorders.

Six months later, on April 8, 2017,  Zubida disappeared again. Her mother had tried for ten months to find her before she spoke to the BBC saying, “I wish they would take me, and let her go. If they’ve taken and tortured my daughter, how can I not speak out? Even if my words lead to my hanging, I will still speak.” Despite the risks, Zubida’s mother refused to be silenced.

On February 26, 2018, two days after the BBC report was released, Zubeida appeared on the Egyptian “ON E” television program, denying she had been forcibly disappeared, or mistreated in any way. Zubeida told the presenter, “Amr Adeeb,” that she has not been in touch with her mother for a year because of disagreements. Her alleged husband and son appeared with her. Egyptian authorities and media used this interview as evidence that the BBC was spreading “fake news” about Egypt, and demanded the BBC apologize. But the BBC refused and insisted on the credibility of its report.

On February 27, 2018, Zubida’s mother told an Egyptian opposition TV channel that her daughter had been “forced under torture” to appear. “I insist on what I said to the BBC; this is the truth,” she said. On March 2, 2018, Zubida’s mother was arrested for “spreading false news that could harm the country’s national interests.” Also, the mother’s lawyer, Ezzat Ghoneim, disappeared on March 3. Amnesty International said it was “deeply concerned that Ezzat Ghonim may have been forcibly disappeared.”

There are several reasons to suspect the Egyptian government and state-owned media.

  • First, the Egyptian O NE interview focused only on Zubiida and disregarded other similar cases that the BBC report had included.
  • Second, under almost no circumstances would an Egyptian woman marry and give birth without informing her family.
  • Third, neither the interviewer nor the Egyptian government denied that Zubida and her mother had been detained for several months in 2014, allegedly for participating in an anti-government protest.
  • Fourth, the “ON E” presenter, Amr Adeeb, is a well-known government sycophant. (Al-Sisi’s version of Fox’s Sean Hannity).  Also, Adeeb said that the interview was held at Zubida’s husband’s house, but later announced that it had been held in one of the police departments.
  • Fifth, the Egyptian media have been primarily serving as a tool for the regime, while most opposition media were shut down right after the 2013 military coup.
  • Sixth, the awful history of the Sisi regime regarding human rights violations, including forced disappearance, torture, and rape are well known. Since 2013, hundreds of cases have been documented by international human rights agencies.
  • Seventh, the Sisi regime has seemingly been willing to do anything and everything to maintain its strong grip on power.

Given all of these realities, it is perhaps not surprising that some Egyptians are doubtful of recent government and media accounts regarding Zubida Ibrahim and her mother.

This persecution of innocent women is widespread also in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Under the crown prince, Mohamed Bin Salman, who introduced himself as a moderate reformer, human rights and female activists have been subjected to unlawful detention, physical and sexual abuse, and torture.

Women such as Israa Alghomgham, Aziza Al-Yousef, Loujin Al-Hathloul, Eman Al-Nafjan, Maryam Al-Otaibi, Samar Badawi, Walaa Al-Shubbar, aNassima Al- Sadah, and others suffer miserable conditions of imprisonment while the world celebrates International Women’s Day.

Let the celebrations of the enormous contributions of women to all the societies of the world continue today. In the U.S. the MeToo Movement has already changed our country for the better. But as these celebrations take place, let us not forget the women who struggle so hard every day in the Middle East.


Aboulfotouh Kandil
Aboulfotouh Kandil

Aboulfotouh Kandil is a freelance writer on socio-political issues and human rights with a main focus on the Middle East.