Thursday, November 20, 2008

More of the Same Old…Suzanne Tamim and Sexual Harassment

Today my program met with an Egyptian lawyer. She was very nice and told us a bit about the kinds of cases she deals with, which range from business to family law. Someone asked her to comment on the Suzanne Tamim case, something I have not been paying much attention to but I understand as follows: A wealthy Egyptian businessman and member of Egypt's Shura Council, Hisham Taalat Moustafa, ordered a hit on his estranged lover, Ms. Tamim, a well known Lebanese singer who was apparently engaged in a number of "relationships" with various men.

During the discussion, the lawyer offered her personal opinion on the case. She said that Suzanne Tamim deserved what she got for behaving in such an immoral manner. Yes, that she deserved to be murdered and have her throat slit because she was sleeping around. She said that a Muslim, Arab, proper girl should not behave this way. It was really that simple. The lawyer emphasized that this was her personal opinion and not that of the law.

My Egyptian professors were just as astonished as my classmates and I were, and I would not say this is representative of Egyptians as a whole, but this type of thinking certainly does exist here. And to be fair, I am sure there are people in the US who would feel the same way. In addition, how does this impact the effectiveness of the law? How do lawyers and judges who are mandated to uphold the law no matter their personal opinions deal with cases like this? This is probably a question for my uncle…

As usual, we also discussed the issue of sexual harassment in Egypt, which I know I talk a lot about but is hard to avoid when I constantly hear stories from my classmates about being harassed. This woman is an Egyptian, educated lawyer, and she flat out told us that she has never seen someone being sexually harassed in Egypt and that she does not consider it to be a problem. Furthermore, she explained that when it does happen, it is because the individual who commits the act cannot make a proper moral decision about what is right and wrong. That is, she does not think that sexual harassment is a societal problem but rather that it happens on a case by case basis involving people who just do not know any better. By that logic then, she is claiming that two-thirds of the male population in Egypt cannot figure out that you should not grab women’s private parts on the street. I don’t buy that. In my opinion, she is trying to place the blame on the individual in an attempt to deny that there are real problems in Egypt’s sexual culture.

I have heard all of this before and frankly I am getting a little sick of it. We have these meetings with prominent, influential Egyptians who are educated and who are doing good for their country, and for some reason, whether it is because they don’t want to paint a bad picture of Egypt in front of foreigners, or they actually think that there are no real problems here, they just keep feeding us bullshit.

I spoke with my professor about this later and she a made a good point which is that I should not get too upset or be so surprised when someone does not deliver the response I expect from them. Just because this woman is a lawyer, etc. does not mean that I should expect certain ideas or opinions from her. And vice versa, I might be surprised to hear what a less educated person has to say, as well.

And for the record, we have plenty of societal and cultural problems in America, too, so don’t think that I am picking on anybody. I just happened to be living in and studying Egyptian society and culture.

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