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Egyptian Women’s Day marked by protest against “virginity test” doctor acquittal

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An image displayed on posters at Friday's demonstration in Cairo

Ilona Lo Iacono
WVoN co-editor 

Hundreds of activists rallied in front of Cairo’s High Court on Friday, marking Egyptian Women’s Day with a protest against the recent military tribunal acquittal of the doctor named in the “virginity test” case.

Dr Ahmed Adel, an army conscript, is alleged to have conducted forced virginity tests on female demonstrators who were detained after police dispersed crowds of protesters from Tahrir Square in March 2011.

It is believed that seven women – including Samira Ibrahim, who brought the charges against Dr Adel – were beaten, subjected to electric shocks, stripped and forced to undergo “virginity tests” while being video-taped.

The doctor was acquitted of public indecency because of alleged contradictions between witness testimonies.

The Egyptian Women’s Union, announcing the rally in a press release, said that the acquittal was a “nonsensical declaration”.

Ibrahim, who was the only one of the women to speak out publicly or give detailed accounts of the incident, has announced her determination to continue her fight for justice.

“I will not give up, and I will file lawsuits against them before international courts,” she told The Associated Press.

She also told Daily News Egypt: “I will resort to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to retrieve my rights since the Egyptian judiciary let me down.”

Nagwa Abbas Ahmed, member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, said: ”In this military trial, the defendant and judge are one and the same because they are both affiliated with the military.”

In a December 2011 press release, Human Rights Watch warned that “the military cannot investigate itself with any independence, and only an investigation by Egypt’s civilian judicial authorities with full cooperation from the military can provide a remedy to all protesters.”

In an online video,  Ibrahim said that she and other women demonstrators were told when they were arrested that the virginity test was to “check” whether they were prostitutes.

“I was naked. It was like a show, with all those people watching, all those officers and soldiers… The man electrocuted my stomach and I was getting very badly insulted… I surrendered.

“If this is a doctor – what is he checking for five whole minutes? It’s just humiliation… They’re breaking you so you don’t even think of asking for Egypt’s rights, so that you don’t even consider demonstrating against oppression.”

Ibrahim said that after her examination, she was told she had to sign a statement “that I’m a girl – meaning a virgin. So am I lucky not to be married?… By this logic, had I been married, I’d have been charged with prostitution.”

Witnesses to the case, including Heba Mourayef of Human Rights Watch, said that they had been told by three different generals that the virginity tests were common practice, to protect soldiers from allegations of rape.

Egyptian feminist Dr Nawal El Saadawi said in her book, The Hidden Face of Eve, that about 16.16% of girls may be born with a thin hymen, easily torn even when no sexual activity has occurred, leaving a girl or woman “incapable of proving her innocence”, and also, it would seem, incapable of “proving” rape in custody.

The “proven” loss of virginity before marriage carries a shame so great that, for many Egyptians, it can only be “wiped out in blood”, she added.

Although the fight against these abuses is part of the wider fight against military rule, many Egyptians regard the concept of “women’s rights” as something tainted by association with the Mubarak era, when women’s rights were used as a “sop to the West” and an excuse to crack down on Islamist parties.

Amnesty International called on the Egyptian military to respect a decision by an administrative court banning “virginity tests” and to ensure women who were forced to endure tests have access to justice and reparations.

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