Despite worldwide publicity and campaigning, the approach to actually solving the sexual harassment epidemic in Egypt has sadly been a pretty apathetic one, with police giving less than a gram of shit about the situation, leaving street perverts to grope away until their hands are content. So it’s perhaps no surprise that anti-harassment groups in Cairo have gone vigilante, taking what’s left of the law into their own hands and patroling the streets to fight the harassment epidemic themselves.
We first heard about “Be A Man,” one of the more radical anti-harassment campaigns, from a story on NPR. The members of the group patroled during the recent Eid al-Adha festival celebrations, armed with cans of black and white spray paint, attacking, pinning down, and scarlet-lettering the shit out of grabbers and gropers with the words “I Am a Harasser.” Mostly men themselves, the activists wore matching fluoro jackets with “Harassment Prevention” scrawled across their backs in Arabic. I spoke to Muhammad Taimoor, leader and founder of the campaign, about their controversial tactics during the festival.
VICE: Hey Muhammad. Can you tell me a little bit about what’s been going on in the past few weeks?
Muhammad Taimoor: Yeah, we’ve been working against harassment with our campaign, “Be a Man.” A big problem here is that women-only carriages on the subway are being invaded by men who are then harassing the women onboard, so we’ve been working against that. It was Eid a couple of weeks ago and we were expecting that would be a particularly bad time for harassment. In the three days of Eid that I participated in, we caught about 300 cases of harassment—that’s 100 every day.
Wow, good job. How do you “catch” these cases?
Our tactics this time were pretty violent—a lot of people were offended because they didn’t like what we were doing. Basically, we attacked the harassers and spray-painted “I Am a Harasser” on anyone we caught in the act. The police weren’t at all supportive of what we were trying to do and they clearly weren’t ready to keep Egyptian women safe during Eid, so we did all the work on our own.
Why did you choose tagging with spray-paint as a tactic?
Because, in our society, a girl blames herself when she gets harassed. When she speaks out to her family about it, they blame her. Sometimes they prevent her from going to school or going outside because they think that sexual harassment is the girl’s problem, not the harasser’s problem. So, when our group attacks the harasser, the girl feels confident in herself. She feels like she was right, she feels like the street is supporting her. She’ll have the confidence to walk in the street without fear and she won’t be afraid to speak out if it happens again.