When I first embarked on establishing my career as a journalist in the early nineties, I participated in the press coverage of the funeral of Basil Al-Assad, the eldest son of the late Syrian President, Hafez Al Assad. That day, I remember witnessing crowds of mourners pouring into the village of Qardaha, Assad”s family hometown. As I watched the line of mourners queue to pay their respects, I noticed one of the soldiers take pity on me and shouted to the people, "Don”t push. There is a woman in front." Despite the kind intentions of the soldier, I could not help but feel deprived of all that I had been aiming for or at least that which I started to gain and it was confirmed in my mind that the retrospective way that people portrayed me was merely as a ”woman”.
I remember such incidents as I follow the cases of sexual harassment of Egyptian women and journalists during the ”Kifaya” demonstrations. These demonstrations were organized by the Egyptian Movement for Change in opposition to the regime and were held at the beginning of the month in Cairo. The case is yet to be settled, as there is no clear conclusion as to who is to be held responsible. To sexually harass a female journalist and to tear off her clothes seems barbaric. Some traditional divisions within society still oppose and fear the participation of women in public life. The perpetrator at the political (not feminist) demonstration chose to attack what he considers the weakest aspect of society, namely women. He thought that humiliating the major component of the demonstration that is the women, would be easier than attacking the crowd.
Ahmed Moussa, head of the criminal section in the state”s daily newspaper Al Ahram, attempted to justify the incident of sexual harassment of which was no less indicative of the traditional perspective of women. Moussa claimed that the female journalist was the one who removed her own clothes in order to trap police officers. He did not however deny the harassment but rather sought to blame the incident on the journalist. As weak as the justification is, it also encourages female stereotypes, insinuating that the woman is lying and taking advantage of her femininity. As for the counter demonstrations attended by journalists against the harassment, they still maintain the same mentality by raising banners that say, ”violating the dignity of women is like violating that of our country.”
All parties use the same traditional terminologies. The defense of female journalists is expressed in the same way as the aggressors just from another angle. Both do not deny the so-called "particularity and privacy of honor" as an exclusive women”s issue. The recent explosion of women in journalism as a form of breaking traditions in the Arab world is magnificent and the recent example has been set by photos of the French female journalist Florence Obeena who at the end of her plight as a hostage in Iraq, waved her skinny arms up in celebration. She suffered from torture, seclusion and the continuous threat of death. Despite all this, she maintained courage and hope and as spectators, we did not feel for a moment that she intended to talk to us from a feminist perspective.