Three years after the Arab Spring young photographers from Egypt and Tunisia set out to find one person that symbolised change in their countries. Meet kick boxer Amira, cannabis smoker Amine and DJ Sadat.
Having documented the shooting, gassing and burning from up close, Elshamy decided to focus on something positive: The Guardians of Joy, the poor kids from Salam City, one of Cairo’s rougher areas, who from day one, provided the revolution with a loud, often distorted, soundtrack of hope and inspiration. >>>
“The level of sexual harassment against women in Egypt is extremely high”, says Rothna Begum. The Human Rights Watch researcher for women's rights is not speaking ambiguously: “A lot of Egyptian men, from across Egyptian society, harass Egyptian women. And they go largely unpunished.”
“Being insulted, comments on your body or the way you dress, being groped at on the street, or on a bus, for Egyptian women there is no hiding when it comes to sexual harassment”, says Begum. According to a 2013 United Nations survey, 99.3% of the women in Egypt state they experienced some kind of sexual harassment, like touching or verbal assaults.
‘The worst thing is that there seems to be an almost complete impunity’
“Sexual harassment and abuse against women in Egypt has always been high, but after the revolution kicked off in 2011 it has become even worse”, says Begum. For example in June 2013, during a 4-day protest on Tahrir square, 91 women were sexually harassed and a few women were raped. What does that look like? “Dozens of men attacking women with knives, sticks or metal chairs, sometimes penetrating women with all types of objects”, Begum explains.
One would think that these acts are performed by the small fraction of creeps and disturbed people we have in all societies, but according to Begum sexual assault, are performed by every day men regardless of religion, ethnicity, or social economic status. !
“The worst thing is that there seems to be an almost complete impunity”, adds Begum. “The men who do these things are not being criticized for it. Moreover, often the women are blamed.”
In 2012, a 16-year-old girl was groped at by a man in the street. In her defense she spat in his face. The man shot the girl down.
“With these levels of violence women start to think whether they will go to work, to school or to a demonstration”, Begum explains.
“Luckily we also see different responses from within Egyptian society, such as small groups of men and women who form rescue brigades for women in need.”
‘The Egyptian revolutionary dream is not just dead’, says photo journalist Mosa’ab Elshamy, ‘it was shot, gassed and burned.’
Having documented the shooting, gassing and burning from up close, Elshamy decided to focus on something positive: The Guardians of Joy, the poor kids from Salam City, one of Cairo’s rougher areas, who from day one, provided the revolution with a loud, often distorted, soundtrack of hope and inspiration.
The lyrics urge protesters to stay put and believe in the revolution. ‘And now, even with all the disillusionment and amidst all the violence and chaos, these kids still manage to create joy,’ says Elshamy with admiration.
Almost half of the young generation lives in poverty and nearly half of the poor are illiterate.
The recent surge in violence after the military ousted elected president Morsi, has highly affected the youth from Cairo’s poorer neighbourhoods. “With tourism and the economy collapsing, even less money is coming in”, says a Human Rights Watch researcher in Cairo. Cairo has a big, young, growing population, but there are hardly any jobs. Almost half of the young generation lives in poverty and nearly half of the poor are illiterate.
“But the biggest problem is that Egypt has become increasingly unsafe for anyone expressing dissent”, adds the researcher. And this danger extends beyond the Muslim Brotherhood movement, who suffered a bloody crackdown in which reportedly more than 1,400 people have been killed and 16,000 detained.
‘Even Human Rights Watch had to shift the way it works in order to protect its staff’
“Two weeks ago the prominent human rights lawyer, Mahienour El-Massry, together with eight of her co-workers, was sentenced to two years in prison”, says the researcher. The accusation: El-Massry had been present at a demonstration honouring the activist blogger Khaled Said, who was killed by Egypt’s security forces.
“Egypt is so dangerous now for activists, even Human Rights Watch had to shift the way it works in order to protect its staff.”
Still, in last week’s elections, 93% of the people voted for ex-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Is this result ‒ despite the low turnout of 46% ‒ a signal of significant popular support?
“In addition to the usual business elite that supports people like al-Sisi, more Egyptians gave him his vote this time because they hope he will bring back stability”, says the researcher. The question is whether these hopeful voters realise that by doing so, they might be choosing for more of the same 50 years of dictatorship that they fought so hard to get rid of in the first place.
The drugs law, law 52, that got the main character in Sélim Harbi’s video Amine convicted to a year in prison, is a very suitable topic that affects a lot of young Tunisians. According to Human Rights Watch researcher Amna Guellali, annually hundreds of young people are arrested on basis of this law. “The Tunisian government estimates one third of the prison population in Tunisia is sentenced on drugs charges.”
According to Guellali there a several problems with Law 52, rendering it a litmus test for the current government.
“For one, Law 52 (unlike most other laws) does not allow judges to weigh in circumstantial factors when dealing with a suspect of drug charges that could possibly lead to a lighter sentence, probation, treatment or even a warning”, says Guellali. “Even the law that deals with murder has this room for circumstantial factors. If you are charged according to Law 52 you will go to jail for at least a year, maximum 5 years.”
‘Security forces could use it to harass and stifle critics of the government.’
Another problem with Law 52 according to Guellai is that it is focused on ‘drug use’ and not ‘drug possession’, so you can get arrested without having any drugs on you. “When suspected of drug use’, the police makes you do a urine test to check the THT-levels in your system, but these tests are easily tampered with.”
“This makes Law 52 a potential tool of repression,” says Guellali. “Security forces could use it to harass and repress critics of the government.” Like with activist blogger Azyz Amami who got arrested not long after he ferociously critiqued the current Tunisian government by calling Tunisia ‘a police state’. Amami’s blog posts gained widespread attention during the 2011 revolution against Tunisia's former dictator Benali.
According to Amami, who was freed a couple of days after his arrest due to huge public pressure, security forces tried to make him perform the urine test but he refused ‒ successfully ‒ stating that it is susceptible to fraud. “It is not unlikely the security forces used Law 52 to retaliate and reduce Amami to silence in response to his criticism”, says Guellali.
“The public debate about Law 52 that was sparked after Amami’s arrest creates a momentum to change it”, says Guellali. “The old regime used Law 52 merely as a repression tool aimed at the young generation, activists and poor people.”
The current government is more sensible than the Benali regime, according to Guellali. “Today, the Tunisian people speak up against the government, newspapers and TV-stations creating a constant flow of critical views on the current state of affairs.”
Tunisia's prime minister has backed a reform against the country's harsh penalties for cannabis possession, calling them ‘out of sync’ with current times. But according to Guellali the problem is in fact that the security forces have not been reformed. “The repressive laws are still there and can be reinforced. For example, once arrested, for the first 6 days one does not have the right to a lawyer.”
This OneWorld production was made in cooperation with Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo. For the past two years, Human Rights Watch and World Press Photo have collaborated on the project Reporting Change to support local photographers and human rights research in the Middle East. This work, with a strong focus on multimedia, has been made possible by a grant from Dutch Postcode Lottery.
Sunday 15 June: Reporting Change Event, Melkweg, Amsterdam
Join and meet artists, photographers, human rights activists and journalists from the Arab world as they present personal stories, visual presentations, film, theater and music all centered on developments and changes in their region. Share the link [ http://www.oneworld.nl/reportingchange ] on Facebook or Twitter and win a free entrance ticket.
Mohamed Hossam Eldin, photojournalist, Egypt
Sélim Harbi, documentary photographer, Tunisia
Mosa’ab Elshamy, photojournalist, Egypt
(For more info on Abdullah Elshamy see this special Facebook page)
Amna Guellali, Algeria and Tunisia researcher Human Rights Watch
Rothna Begum, Researcher, Women's Rights Division for the Middle East and North Africa region, Human Rights Watch
Multimedia concept, interviews and realisation: Martijn van Tol & Aart Jan van der Linden
Coordination: Inez Heeremans and Lonneke van Genugten
Art direction: Kummer & Herrman
Design consultant: Barbara Pilipp
Images: (c) Mohamed Hossam Eldin, Sélim Harbi, Mosa’ab Elshamy
Subtitles comment-video’s: Tessa Moolenaar, Ilse Snoeren en Merel Hendriks (OneWorld)