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Activists debate impact of ‘blue bra woman’ in Egypt

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Julie Tomlin
WVoN co-editor

The brutal attack of a woman whose blue bra was exposed as soldiers beat her in Tahrir Square quickly became an icon of the ongoing struggle of the Egyptian people.

But did the focus on her treatment  divert the world’s attention from the widespread violence meted out by Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during protests in the days before December’s elections?

The question was raised during a discussion about women and the Arab Spring as part of the Women of the World Festival at Southbank in London from 8-11 March to celebrate International Women’s Day.

Although she welcomed the protests that followed the brutal treatment of the woman (see WVoN story), activist and blogger Salma Said was concerned there had been little coverage – and no protests – when 30 people were killed that same day.

Said, who was shot during protests following the February 1 Port Said football stadium tragedy (see WVoN story) said:

“I was very happy that there were protests when the woman was stripped of her clothes, but all the focus was on one image and the fact that other activists were killed was ignored.”

The reaction to the treatment of the female protester was “very problematic”  she said.

“I was concerned that women called on men to protect them, which seemed to me to be sexist and I was angry that they were not taking to the street when men were beaten up.”

Filmmaker Hanan Abdalla said the image of the woman wearing the blue bra revealed the extent to which the Egyptian military had “overstepped the mark”:

“These men were not beating women up because they think they should be treated equally to men,” she said.

“For them to behave in this way was very symbolic and relatively small things like this do trigger a new consciousness.”

Abdalla concluded that it is currently impossible to separate women’s issues from the greater issues Egyptian society is facing:

“If anyone wants to support and empower women in Egypt, then you have to help all of Egypt,” she said.

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