‘J'lem Report’ columnist sexually assaulted by Cairo police

Mona Eltahawy posts pictures of herself with both hands broken after arrest by Egypt police, military.

By OREN KESSLER
November 25, 2011 01:51
4 minute read.
Mona Eltahawy

Mona Eltahawy 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Mona Eltahawy – an influential Egyptian-American journalist and blogger and a columnist for The Jerusalem Report – was beaten and sexually assaulted during a 12-hour detention by Cairo police, she said Thursday.

The 44-year-old revealed the ordeal on her Twitter account, recounting how she had been blindfolded for two hours and had her hands broken.

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Eltahawy has more than 80,000 Twitter followers who received word of her arrest late Wednesday, when she tweeted: “Beaten arrested in interior ministry.”

Her account then went silent for nine hours, after which she recounted her ordeal in the 140-character snippets that are the social media site’s signature. It was unclear what she was doing immediately prior to her arrest.

Taken inside the ministry building, she recalled, she was set upon by five or six police officers who “groped, prodded my breasts, grabbed my genital area,” and tried to insert their hands in her pants. She was then handed over to military police, who kept her blindfolded for two hours.

Late Thursday, she posted an image of herself, apparently in a medical facility, with both hands in casts. X rays revealed both hands were broken, she wrote, though it remained unclear exactly how the injuries occurred.

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“It’s horrible, really horrifying,” said Eltahawy’s cousin Randa El Tahawy, a Cairo-based blogger who frequently writes about issues of sexual harassment and gender equality in Egypt.

“She’s a very tough woman; she’s been through a lot of tough situations, so I’m sure she’d holding up. But of course it’s a horrifying experience,” Tahawy told The Jerusalem Post by phone from the Egyptian capital.

“It’s one thing to be arrested for protesting; it’s another to be beaten and sexually assaulted. That’s the thing that really crossed the line. I think everyone should be appalled by this violence – there’s no need for it,” she said.

The timing of the arrest, she added, was inexplicable in that for years her cousin had been a vehement critic of former president Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted in February after 18 days of popular revolt.

“All this time, while she lived here under Mubarak, Mona was always controversial and she never got arrested. Then they come and arrest her now?” she said.

Eltahawy was born in Port Said, Egypt, spent several years elsewhere in the Middle East and in Britain and has lived in New York since 2000. In addition to the Report, she is a columnist for the Toronto Star and Denmark’s Politiken newspaper, as well as a frequent contributor to leading print and broadcast media outlets.

From 2004 to 2006, she wrote a weekly column for the London-based pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, but was dismissed following a quarrel with its Saudi management. In a 2006 op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, she attributed the dismissal to her frequent criticism of Mubarak, a longtime Saudi ally.

Before moving to the US, Eltahawy lived and worked in Jerusalem as a Reuters reporter – the first Muslim foreign-born correspondent to work in Israel for a major international news outlet.

Her journalistic range is broad – from women’s issues to social and political issues in the Arab world to the Arab- Israeli conflict. In a 2009 interview with The Economist she described Israel as “the opium of the Arabs... an intoxicating way for them to forget their own failings or at least blame them on someone else. Arab leaders have [a] long practice of using Israel as a pretext for maintaining states of emergency at home and putting off reform.”

The same year, she was awarded the European Commission’s Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press.

In March, speaking at the annual J Street conference in Washington, she challenged Israel supporters to take advantage of the revolutions sweeping the Middle East to help bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The wave of “freedom and dignity sweeping the region would not stop at the borders of Palestine,” she said, prompting thunderous applause from the audience.

Eltahawy’s cousin placed responsibility for this week’s ordeal squarely on the shoulders of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

“The SCAF is in charge of the country. That means you’re responsible for taking care of everything happening in the country, that you’re the highest authority,” she asserted. “Who’s in charge now? They are.”

She said sexual harassment was “very, very common in Egyptian society. It’s a problem that has to do with the image of women. There’s also the fact that sexual harassment is often used by security forces and authorities to intimidate women and push them away from being involved in politics.”

On February 11, the day of Mubarak’s resignation, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted in mob violence at Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Between 200 and 300 men joined in the attack, which lasted close to half an hour before Logan was rescued by women protesters who summoned army soldiers to remove her.

“It’s both a problem in society and a problem with the security forces who think women will be ashamed about it and not talk about it,” Tahawy said. “But they chose the wrong person – someone who has been so outspoken throughout her entire life about these issues, especially sexual harassment and women’s rights.”

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