One of the first signs that Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was of an authoritarian temper indistinguishable from the Mubarak regime came last March, when the military took seven women it had arrested during a sit-in in Midan Tahrir and subjected them to virginity tests. One, Samira Ibrahim, filed an official complaint after her release. The military first denied the act; then defamed the women, saying they were
“not like your daughter or mine … These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found Molotov cocktails and (drugs) in the tents.”
The army ultimately explained,
“We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place … None of them were.”
Samira Ibrahim pressed forward heroically with the case despite public stigma and anonymous threats. In this video (now subtitled) she describes the experience.
On December 17, thanks to her courage, a state administrative court banned the practice of virginity tests in military detention. In a concession to protesters, the military also pressed charges of sexual assault against the lowest-ranking figure it could find responsible, the conscripted doctor who actually performed the exams. (Shades of Abu Ghraib — a few rogue soldiers!) His trial starts next week, but the charges have already been downgraded to “performing an act that violates modesty.”
For me, the tests, with their brutal assertion of state power over the suspect body, recall the practice of forcing men accused of homosexual sex to undergo forensic anal examinations — carried out on hundreds or thousands of victims during Egypt’s 2001- 2003 crackdown. An article on those exams is here.