Video: Journalist Mona Eltahawy Recounts Beating, Sexual Assault By Egyptian Forces
Egyptian-American journalist, Mona Eltahawy, was detained for 12 hours by Egypt’s security forces last Wednesday (November 23) near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, during which time she was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. She has just returned from Cairo and agreed to give an interview to Democracy Now.
“So many people in Tahrir Square came up to me and would kiss my forehead,” Eltahawy said. “They would give me a hug and they would say, ‘We’re not going to let them get away.’ They would say, ‘We’re going to snatch Egypt back from them.’ I’ve come back with so many messages of love and support from Tahrir. I feel like Tahrir’s spirit is going to help my arms heal even quicker. This is for Egypt. People have lost eyes. People have been killed, people have lost loved ones,” says Eltahawy. “What happened to me is minuscule compared to that. I have a voice in the media — they don’t. So I want to use that voice to get across to the world that our revolution continues.”
Yesterday Egypt held its first round of parliamentary elections to elect a new, post-Mubarak government in the wake of fierce clashes between protesters and police that lasted for nine days and left at least 42 people dead and more than 3,000 wounded across the country.
Watch Democracy Now’s interview with Eltahawy below:
AMY GOODMAN: The first round of parliamentary elections are underway in Egypt today. Voters a going to the polls to elect a new post-Mubarak government. One of Egypt’s Presidential candidates, Amr Moussa, cast his ballot and stressed that there’s a real appetite for democracy in Egypt.
AMR MOUSSA: This is the beginning of a new era in Egypt, Democracy in action. Not in theory but in action.
REPORTER: What do you think, after the elections, should be done if the people still [UNINTELLIGIBLE]
AMR MOUSSA: What is that?
REPORTER: If the people remain in Tahrir Square, what do you think about after the elections? What should be done after the elections?
AMR MOUSSA: Well, after the elections you will have a parliament, you will have your deputies that you have elected yourself. But, if you want to go to Tahrir and express another point of view, why not? This has to be a free country, but disciplined afterwards.
REPORTER: And finally, what should the military [UNINTELLIGIBLE]—-I heard you’ve been at times with them so what’s the final things you be happen after?
AMR MOUSSA: We have reached an agreement, very important one, that the old elections, including the presidential elections would come to an end before the beginning of July. So by the thirtieth day of June, all of the elected officials should be in place and start the new era in Egypt, in the government of Egypt.
AMY GOODMAN: One of Egypt’s presidential candidates, Amr Moussa, speaking with reporters as he cast his ballot in today’s parliamentary election. He’s not actually running for president today in these elections.
These elections are being held in the wake of fierce clashes between protesters and police last week that lasted for nine days, left at least 42 people dead, more than 3,000 wounded across the country. It marked the worst violence in Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster. Thousands of protesters have launched a mass sit-in in Tahrir Square in front of the Parliament in downtown Cairo, to call for the ruling military council to step down and hand over power to a civilian government. Many of the protesters are boycotting the elections.
Well, for more, we go to a Egyptian American journalist Mona Eltahawy. She was detained by Egypt’s security forces last Wednesday near Cairo’s Tahrir Square. She was taken to the Interior Ministry, detained for 12 hours, during which time she was brutally beaten and sexually assaulted. While in captivity, she tweeted, “Beaten arrested in interior ministry.” Mona Eltahawy is just returned from Cairo last night and we are very glad that she at least is in condition enough to be with us in studio. Although, you have cast on both your arms, Mona. Welcome to Democracy Now!, tell us exactly what happened.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Thanks for having me, Amy. It was on Wednesday night when I went along with an activist friend of mine to Mohammed Mahmud Street, which was the front line between where protesters had been in a standoff in clashes with security forces. Soon after we arrived on the front line, they started shooting. So, we took cover in what we thought was a safe area. But, we realize now that we’d been entrapped by government agents on our side of the barrier, because they basically held on to us. I didn’t realize that the time, until my activist friend told me in recording his own arrest. They held on to as until riot police came on to our side of the barrier and took my friend away and surrounded me. I was surrounded by four or five riot police. And they just brutally beat me with their sticks. They had these huge sticks. They’re known for their brutality.
In trying to protect myself, they broke my arm, here, and my hand, there. Then they dragged into a no-man’s land in between where the protesters stand and where the security forces are, and that’s where the sexual assault happened. It was just hands all over me, on my breasts, in between my legs. I lost count of the number of hands trying to get into my jeans, all while I was being beaten. My hair, they were pulling my hair. They were calling me a whore, a daughter of a whore. And then they managed to drag me all the way into the Interior Ministry where the assaults continued to happen until someone from the military said, “Take her inside,” and then I was held inside the Ministry of Interior for five to six hours on pretext that they wanted to verify my identity. But, you don’t take six hours to verify someone’s identity. And then I was handed over to military intelligence where I was blindfolded for two or five hours, and again the pretext of verifying my identity.
When I look back now, I think what actually happened—or I’m guessing, but this is the thing that makes the most sense to me—is that, while at the Interior Ministry, they looked at my files, and like many journalists in Egypt, I had many files in there. And they realized they had a journalist that had written a lot against the previous regime. I’ve exposed a lot of human rights violations. They know my position on the revolution. So, I think they were probably trying to figure out during those twelve hours, am I more trouble with them or more trouble free? And I would say, as much pain as I was in, they wouldn’t get me medical treatment. They counted on the wrong thing, because ever since they released me, I’ve just been on a campaign to shame and expose them.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who exactly who they were.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Well, the ones who beat me and sexually assaulted me are the riot police, and they are conscripts, basically. They’re kind of the lowest ranking soldiers, if you like, of the Ministry of the Interior, and they are the ones on the front line with protests. They are the ones that basically unleashed—the Ministry of the Interior unleashes them on protesters because they’re just like automatons. All they do is beat. And with women, the sexual violence with women is really important here, because the Mubarak regime began this horrendous policy of targeting female activists and journalists because they wanted to shame us, they wanted to silence us. So, it started then in 2005. But, then the military now—right now, Mubarak is not in charge anymore. It’s the military , the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. They too have used sexual violence against women. In March, they subjected at least 17 activists to so-called virginity tests, which are sexual assaults. And now here again—who’s in charge of Egypt? Again, it’s this military junta. So, they are in charge of whatever the Ministry of the Interior and the police do. Even under military rule now, the same kind of violence we experienced under Mubarak, and sometimes worse, is still being unleashed on Egyptians.
So, at the end of the day, you have to look back and say, look, we started this revolution in January against police brutality amongst many other things, and that brutality continues, which says to me that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has failed at leading Egypt, and it must step aside immediately. That’s exactly what the protesters at Tahrir Square are demanding.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about this; what has taken place over the weekend. The level of violence. Sharif Abdel Kouddous has been reporting through the weekend. The number of people killed and wounded.
MONA ELTAHAWY: It is horrendous. As you mentioned, almost 40 people killed and thousands injured. I am just one of many thousands. There many other Egyptians out there that you don’t hear of. So, this is just a symbol of that violence. It started out as a peaceful protest against expanding army rule. The army along with the police invaded Tahrir Square and violently tried to break it up, killed several people, burnt tents. And it was in reaction to that the violent invasion of Tahrir Square that activists and protesters then went on to Muhammad Mahmud Street, which is where I was taken, because that street is the street along which they came from the Interior Ministry. The sadism—-it’s just sadistic, Amy. They have been targeting people’s heads. Human-rights groups have documented that they have been deliberately targeting the head so they can get the eye. Lots of activists have lost one or both eyes. It’s just horrendous what they’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is in control?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Well, supposedly, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, and the head of which is Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. He used to be Mubarak’s Defense Minister. He’s now the head of that supreme council. Now, I call that council the Supreme Council of Mubarak’s, because we’ve basically replaced one Mubarak with 18 Mubaraks. They’re all Mubarak’s men. They rose through the ranks of military with Mubarak, and here is his former Defense Minister. Mubarak is 83, this man is 81. Like one of the activists in Tahrir Square said, he is older than her grandfather. And they were supposed to hand over power to a civilian leadership in Egypt in September. They claimed they were the guardians of the revolution because they didn’t shoot, they didn’t open fire on Egyptians during those 18 days. But, all that time they were detaining, they were torturing, subjecting people to virginity tests. We have this saying in Egypt that the army and the people are one hand. Well, I tell everyone now that they’ve broken my hand, and they’ve broken the hands of many Egyptians, and that kind of relationship is definitely severed. More and more ordinary Egyptians, even those not involved in the revolution have been watching the violence that the military and police have unleashed on people and are are realizing that the military is not the guardian of the revolution, but that the military is trying to hijack our revolution.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of what’s happening, these elections. Who’s boycotting, who’s not, what the demands are of the people in Tahrir Square.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Right, well, the Tahrir Square demands have been the ones that have been there all along since January 25th and that is the revolutionary demands that include civilian leadership for Egypt and an end to state-endorsed violence and brutality against protesters, a demand for justice for the families of the martyrs during the 18 days of the initial uprising. But, also families who’ve lost loved ones all the way up until this past week. No one has stood trial for shooting and killing people during those 18 days that got rid of Mubarak. And also an end to military trials. 12,000—at least 12,000 civilians have stood before military tribunals in Egypt on various charges. Now, civilians should not have to go under military tribunal. So, there’s a whole host of very very clear demands. Now, what has happened over the past week, and because of expanding military rule and because of the idea that the military and the Islamists, especially— the Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafees, are recognized as the most organized, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. And a lot of people worry the Islamist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have entered into an accommodation deal with the military. So, a lot of people who do not identify with Islamists have decided to boycott the elections. But, also some people have decided to boycott the elections because of this violence last week, and because very prominent activists like blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, who’s one of the most well known in Egypt, are still behind bars on trumped up charges. So, it’s a confusing time. It’s a very violent time.
AMY GOODMAN: Although, It does seem like the turnout is quite high today for these elections.
MONA ELTAHAWY: I would say the majority of the Egyptians are not boycotting. I think that those who are boycotting are probably a hardcore group of a smaller number of activists. But, I think that you’re seeing this array of voices in Egypt, that you’re seeing people turn out for our first post-January 25th elections with this hunger to vote and to take part in rebuilding the country. This is what gives me hope.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s difficult to see you here talking about what gives you hope with your hands in full casts and one of your fingers—-one of your hands is semi-blue, as I’m looking at you with these casts. So, how do you feel hopeful?
MONA ELTAHAWY: I feel hopeful because the people who did this to me are not Egypt. The people who did this to me are the part of Egypt, or is the group that has occupied Egypt for so many decades now, that we are trying to get rid of. We are continuing our revolution. We will not allow them to hijack our revolution. And I’m optimistic because of the the Egypt that signed my cast. So many people in Tahrir Square came up to me and they would kiss my forehead, they would give me a hug, they would say we’re not going to let them get away. They would say, we’re going to snatch Egypt back from them. And I’ve come back with so many messages of love and support from Tahrir, I feel like Tahrir’s spirit is going to help my arms heal even quicker. This is for Egypt. I mean, people have lost eyes. People have been killed. People have lost loved ones. What happened to me is minuscule compared to that. I have a voice in the media they don’t, so, I want to use that voice to get across to the world that our revolution continues.
AMY GOODMAN: Mona Eltahawy, the young women who are in the square now, people you talk to afterwards, how are women faring today?
MONA ELTAHAWY: Women are fighting. We’re kicking and screaming and shouting. Women have been part of this revolution from the very beginning. And women are demanding that whoever wins these elections, whoever gets the parliamentary majority, recognizes that women are integral to this process. Our revolution will not succeed unless women are taken into account every step of the way, because a lot of people, including myself, worry that if Islamist groups do as well as they’re expected to, the already increasing levels of conservatism in Egypt will rise even more. I fully believe that conservatism harms women the most. So, with the feminists groups on the ground that I know, and the activists I know on the ground, I’m very closely monitoring the situation and going back and forth between here and Egypt to contribute whatever I can to that growing chorus of women’s voices saying, this revolution will not succeed without us. Women are a central part of this revolution. The sad thing is, we’ve and fighting on many fronts. We fight along with the men. We fight against the military and the counterrevolution. We fight the teargas. We fight the police brutality, but we fight, what I call this fourth enemy which is sexual violence. And a sexual violence that is deliberately targeted at women to try to silence us.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the Obama administration and its stance when it came to Mubarak holding on to the end, but now continuing, well, the military in Egypt receives some of the highest amount of aid in the world, $1.3 billion a year.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Absolutely. The amount of aid the United States gives the Egyptian comprises 45% of its budget.
AMY GOODMAN: Egypt’s budget.
MONA ELTAHAWY: Of the Egyptian military’s budget, 40% of which comes from the U.S. The U.S. administration and all those other governments that support the military rulers of Egypt now, have to also be held accountable for what’s happening because it’s the tear gas that they provide the security forces with, that they sell them, the weapons that they sell them, and the money they give them an aid that they use to buy these weapons, are what has led to this and the at least 40 killed and the hundreds killed during the revolution and the thousands upon thousands who are in jail. The U.S. administration has lagged behind every step of the way. Their statements have been incredibly slow and incredibly ineffectual, and they must recognize that Egyptians realize that they’re one of the best friends of the military junta that is trying to destroy our revolution.
AMY GOODMAN: Mona Eltahawy, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Egyptian born columnist, journalist, she just returned from Cairo last night. Both of her hands are in casts.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DEMOCRACY NOW