Samira Ibrahim Ahmad: Undressing the Military

Work by Ganzeer showing a juxtaposition of military and ordinary citizens. (Photo: Jenny Gustaffson)

By: Wael Abd al-Fattah

Published Saturday, December 31, 2011

Samira Ibrahim Ahmad flashed a victory sign next to the lion statue by the Kasr el-Nil bridge in Cairo. She felt triumphant over the military for obtaining a court ruling that deems “virginity tests” by Egypt’s “holy institution” as illegal. She laughed in the courtroom after having spent long nights in tears reliving her humiliating ordeal.

– – –

On March 8, 25-year-old Samira was forced to lay half naked in front of dozens of officers and soldiers. Her body was covered in marks that resulted from beatings and electric shocks as she was subjected to a virginity test. On top of all of that, she was accused of being a prostitute.

She realized that those behind her arrest on that day had one mission: to punish her for participating in the iconic January 25 protests.

– – –

As Samira sat there in detention, she saw his picture. It was him, the “ousted one.” She rubbed her eyes one more time. The picture was new. “Why?” she asked, even though rule number one at the military barracks was: No one speaks here.

But she spoke. She asked the soldiers why there was a new picture of Mubarak hanging on the wall. “He is our president and we love him,” they said.

This was one of many shocks that Samira, a young marketing manager on a business trip, received in the month after her arrival in Cairo from Sohag on January 25.

After her arrival, the purpose of her trip began to change when Samira started “searching” for the “revolution.” She headed to the stairs of the syndicate of journalists, where protests were usually organized. There, she only found a police informer, who asked, “What are you doing here?”

But she didn’t have to search for long as the flood of the revolution swept her along until her arrest on March 26; when she was baptized as a revolutionary. It was in this vast body of revolution that Samira found what she was looking for.

– – –

Boo

This was what Samira wrote in her writing class when she had to tackle one of these two topics: environmental problems or how Arab armies would confront Israel after one of its frequent attacks.

She mocked the idea of confrontation and said that ever since 1986, when she was born, she had “not heard of an army or ruler who would say “boo to Israel.” Consequently, the school administration summoned the disobedient student. How could she say what she was not taught?

The interrogator treated her like a kid. He bribed her with oranges and told her that what she had written was not correct. He looked for an easy explanation: “You were definitely told to write that by your father…or your uncle.”

Her father had spent a long time in detention for being a member of an Islamic group, and so did her uncle, who was in prison for an even longer period. She was shocked that the investigator treated her as a mere extension of her father.

– – –

“The People will bring me my right"

That is what Samira said after losing trust in all institutions. She could not believe that her assailant was a member of an institution that Egyptians revere as the pillar of modern statehood. The regime may be corrupt from head to toe, but not the army.

But ever since the army raided the protest, she had discovered a different side to it that she had not seen before. A member of the military dragged her violently after kicking her in the face and stomach. His superior got the nightmare rolling when he called her and the protesters “prostitutes.”

She saw the distance between revolution and prostitution vanish in a second, as the forces that had pledged to protect the revolution were instead killing it. This moment of discovery came as she tried to hide her weakness and humiliation in front of the monsters that disrobed her and insulted her, setting the stage for the virginity test. A doctor in military uniform, who was busy with his phone would be the ultimate villain, as a nurse ordered Samira to take her pants off for the “master.”

– – –

No one believed the story. Does the army really subject women to virginity tests? The military institution’s position was blurry in the days following Mubarak’s forced departure from the presidential palace.

Only the youth chose not to leave the street. Call it a mysterious revolutionary hunch. These youth were opposed to the idea of “half a revolution” or “a revolution completed by the army.” The friendly relationship between the demonstrators and the army was still in full effect when the latter’s forces attacked the protest and arrested Samira and the other young men and women.

March 9 was a turning point in relations between the army and the uprising. The stories of virginity tests were initially only whispered but Samira wanted everyone to know. When she returned home, her family did not ask her to retreat in shame. Her mother was worried about her, but her father demanded that she stand up for her rights rejecting the notion that an individual is alone when fighting for their right.

The road to victory was indeed uphill, with those who resisted the government facing questions like: “Who are you to win over a powerful institution?” “Who are you to challenge the tyrannical state?” “Who gave you the right to overthrow a president or prosecute those who have violated your rights, body and humanity?”

The criminal, on the other hand, is protected by large institutions and an unjust state that simply allows. The criminal is in fact the institution and the state that savagely violates individuals.

Samira laughed because she had successfully swam against the current of pessimism and discouragement. Her hope triumphed.

– – –

Small victories; that is what the revolution has achieved and what will allow it to continue. The individual’s discovery of his ability to protect his or her rights and release his or her imagination is the true meaning of the revolution.

Every individual’s tale is a chapter in the revolution. Every individual has their own battle against the mighty titans who have occupied all squares and screens and suffocated all means of life with their heavy presence.

Every day, society shakes off part of that presence. This has allowed Samira to break ancient morality taboos on the way to claiming her rights. Egypt lived long years with defeatist morals. These morals were unethical, hypocritical, fascist, blind, and submissive to a criminal state. They exposed the weak, even if they were innocent.

Samira is too strong to be defeated. She could have chosen to hide what hypocritical morality describes as a “scandal,” and live in shame. But she defended her rights and rallied millions behind her who could no longer accept injustice and violation as a reality. The criminal will be tried even if it takes a long time. This is a step in the journey towards a new republic.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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