Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Harassment in Egypt

Liam Stack of the Christian Science Monitor looks at sexual harassment in Egypt, which will be taken up by parliament later this year:
"Experts say social trends are exacerbating sexual harassment on the street here.

"The ECWR blames economic deprivation and even the growing conservative religious trend that promotes a restricted social role for women, and rebukes those who step outside it. Some see a broad cultural shift over the last generation, when young women rarely wore veils and Cairo was more of a secular city...

"Premarital sex is strongly condemned in Egypt, as is dating, but the country's grim economic situation means most young people cannot afford to wed. Some say that handicap is leading to frustrations that materialize in the form of harassment. The growing traditionalist view of women's roles compounds the problem.

"Amna Nosseir, a professor of philosophy and former dean of Al Azhar University in Cairo, one of the centers of Sunni Islam, says Egyptian culture has changed since her youth.

"'Look at our boys today,' she says. 'They have nothing to fill their lives except TV and the Internet, and now we have this problem of late marriage. When you combine it all, you will have social problems like harassment.'

"On TV and online, cultural influences of the West duel with those of the conservative states of the Persian Gulf. Egyptians watch American actors do things that they cannot, like date or have premarital sex. That in turn influences Arab pop culture, which often features scantily-clad divas and remakes of Western TV hits."

At the end of the article, Nosseir remarks that unlike in her youth, other people on the street don't step in these days to stop harassment when they see it. That suggests another trend difficult to figure out from the explanations offered by the rest of the article. Could it be that increasing mobility and denser populations have led to a decline in the importance of neighborhood reputation?

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