Friday, October 24, 2008

Justice -- kinda

I know it's been like 1,000 years since I blogged here. But I just had to post this New York Times story....

In Cairo, a Groping Case Ends in a Prison Sentence

By Sharon Otterman

Noha al-Ostaz, a 27-year-old Egyptian filmmaker, was standing on the side of a busy, traffic-choked Cairo street last June when a van driver reached out of his window and groped her. Then, pulling at her body, he looked into her face and laughed. Ms. Ostaz had seen women harassed on the crowded streets of the city before, and had seen them do nothing about it. Something inside her clicked.

“I just felt, I’m never going to let this happen again,” she said in an interview on Wednesday.

So Ms. Ostaz shouted and demanded that the driver get out of the van. He refused, so she jumped on the hood, vowing she would rather be hit by the vehicle than get off and let the man drive away. A crowd formed. Finally, the driver got out of the van. Ms. Ostaz, with the help of a female friend and one or two other bystanders, then physically dragged the man to a police station about four blocks away.

On Tuesday, an Egyptian judge sentenced the van driver — Sherif Jebriel, 30 — to three years imprisonment with hard labor, a remarkably lengthy jail sentence by Western standards for such an offense. He was also ordered to pay 5,001 Egyptian pounds ($895) in damages to Ms. Ostaz. Women’s rights activists in Cairo hailed the verdict and sentence, saying that to their knowledge it was the first time an Egyptian court had ordered a groper to prison.

The case comes at a time when verbal and physical harassment of women is starting to be acknowledged as a “real phenomenon in Egypt,” Ms. Ostaz said. Women’s rights activists said they hoped the severe sentence would frighten men into stopping committing assaults that for years have gone unpunished by the authorities and many women have become resigned to as something they just have to deal with on Cairo’s streets.

Earlier in October, eight men were arrested in Cairo on charges that they took part in a group sexual attack on women pedestrians during the Eid holiday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It was reminiscent of an incident in 2006, when dozens of women reported being violently groped in downtown Cairo by a mob of men.

If any of you have read my old posts about Cairo, you will know that this case is very similar to what happened to me in Cairo.

I too 'lost it' one day after being followed by a guy in his car who was taking pictures of me and masturbating. I jumped on the hood of his car and screamed at the top of my lungs. I too went to the police station only to be laughed away.

It makes me happy and sad all at once to read that the harassment in Cairo has only gotten worse — but that finally it is being taken seriously. I do truly believe it is solely in the hands of the Egyptian women to demand that changes are made.

I know far too many strong Egyptian women. I know they can do it. I hope this example serves as a starting point.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Longing for nothing

It’s official. I found something to miss about Dubai. In a twisted bit of logic, I miss the tedium.

In Dubai, there was never a sense of missing out on anything. There were no good concerts, plays or shows of any kind, no kitchy coffeehouse hangouts, no welcoming and overstocked bookstores, no cool shopping corridors. The bar/club scene was obnoxious to the point of loathsome. Sports were the best outlet, but that’s about it. So, in lieu of all these things, you could go straight home from work and relax, secure in the knowledge that there was nothing better to do.

Here, however, there is loads to do -- lectures, independent film screenings, cycling clubs, foreign films, museums, historic sites, paddling groups, dogwalking clubs, protests to join, and on and on. If that weren’t enough, the vast majority of groups, clubs, events, museums, etc -- are practically free.

Yet and still, I go straight home after work every day, with a little nagging voice in my head reminding me of all the cool things I’m not doing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Back to the USA

They say some of life’s most traumatic changes include starting or losing a job, moving house and having a baby. Well, in the past four months I decided to do all three at the same time. Thus my slackness in keeping up with this blog.

The biggest news — besides the birth of my son Jibran on Sept. 20 — is that I have left the Middle East. You may have noticed how my last few blog entries were becoming increasingly bitter. Well, needless to say, my husband and I grew decidedly disenchanted with Dubai in particular, and by November, we practically left town in the middle of the night.

It wasn’t just the fact that my landlord was revving up to raise my rent by 54.8% the day after the cap was set to expire (for a total of a 101% increase from the day I moved in two years ago). It wasn’t only that my health insurance policy didn’t cover one single aspect of my pregnancy. It wasn’t solely because my husband lost his job largely due to greedy clients who didn’t want to part with their previously promised money. It wasn’t mainly because I was tired of risking my family’s lives by driving a short distance anywhere on Dubai’s death roads.

It was something else. Something deeper, more sinister. It was an ever-present, nagging feeling of being used. There’s just so many people out to make a quick buck in the city that it’s hard to know who to trust. And after a while that feeling pervades all your interactions, thus making life a little less pleasant each day.

The truth is Dubai is a city that has no organic personality, no moral fiber, despite its Muslim heritage. It’s a city built to appease one sheikh.

Then there’s Jibran. All of a sudden my needs and desires faded into the background, and providing a safe home where family and friends want to help you, where systems are in place to help out, and where our voices matter (even in a tiny way) became paramount to anything Dubai had to offer.

And to say that having a child changes your life is not just a cliche, it’s also an understatement. My little guy put things into perspective, big time. Things I had grown accustomed to were suddenly not good enough for him. It’s OK to cheat yourself; it’s not OK to cheat your child. So, it’s back to America for us. And right into the belly of the beast: Washington DC.

As you all know I can be a pretty harsh critic of my country and its government, so needless to say I am sure living in DC will pose its own challenges. But at least here I can vent my frustration outloud and with no fear. Here I can vote not only during elections, but with my dollars. And green. Beautiful lush greenery abounds.

If any of you have suggestions on what I should do with this blog, let me know. At this point I am so busy with my new job and baby, that I most likely will take it offline (once I learn how to do that).

For all our friends who are still in Dubai, sticking it out, I wish you luck and patience. If you come through DC, look us up.

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