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For Egyptian Women, ‘a March of Anger’ and More Calls for Protests, Protection

December 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
Ten-thousand women marched Tuesday in Tahrir Square after brutal attacks of women were reported during protests in Cairo. Margaret Warner discusses Egypt's political struggles with corporate executive May Nabil, who participated in the demonstrations.

MARGARET WARNER: And I am joined now by May Nabil, who participated in yesterday’s demonstration. She is a corporate executive in Cairo.

And, May Nabil, thank you for joining us.

Why did so many women turn out for this protest yesterday, for this march?

MAY NABIL, corporate executive: Hello, Margaret. How are you? Thanks for letting me having this chance.

In the past week, there has been like really pressure happening in the street and on people. And that peak happened on Saturday, when this incident happened to our fellow Egyptian girl. And ever since, everyone was very angry. And though the media here in Cairo was covering on it, the people felt like there is something they have to do.

So there was a call on the Internet and all the social media for all the women to gather and to go down and protest and march to support the girl. So this is what happened yesterday.

MARGARET WARNER: And were you surprised at the size of the crowd?

MAY NABIL: Well, when I was on my way to the protest, I didn’t think it will be that big. And I was proud that many, many of the women here, like, answered the call, because many of them didn’t have any Internet access.

So they heard from other women who had it. And it was getting bigger and bigger over the hours. So it started at 4:00 p.m. Cairo local time, and during the march, other women like joined us from the streets, more and more walking. Even the ones who didn’t hear about the march, they simply joined in.

So, yes, I was surprised, but yet, like, I was proud and I had hope that this might be like a call. People are more aware now.

MARGARET WARNER: And what happened at the protest? Was there any violence, any roughness shown by the security forces toward you?

MAY NABIL: No, not at all.

There were no security forces. They were actually absent from this. It was all women. And we had layers of men protecting the march since it started until it reached the square. So I didn’t see with my bare eyes any — any security, any — any military. Nobody was there, just the people.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, you said that, of course, a lot of people in Egypt don’t have Internet access. How widely was that video of that woman who was half-stripped down her blue bra, how widely was that seen in Egypt? Was it on state TV?

MAY NABIL: Well, I didn’t see it. I don’t watch the state TV myself. I only saw it on the Internet.

But many independent newspapers, like, put it on their first pages. And a lot of activists printed out the photo to show it to people in the streets. This is how the awareness happened, because many didn’t know about it. Some heard of it, but they didn’t actually see it. So it was independent efforts to spread the photo all over the street.

MARGARET WARNER: Was this unusual behavior on the part of the Egyptian security forces?

MAY NABIL: Well, not really.

A few months ago, many had faced certain violence of this. So, no, it’s not new. It happens before in April to certain of girls. And I’m not sure you heard of it or not, but they encountered such violence. But it wasn’t actually filmed, so we only heard their testimony. They said that it happened to them.

But this was the only documented event. That’s why people believed it.

MARGARET WARNER: So, what are you trying or what were you trying to accomplish with this march yesterday?

MAY NABIL: It was first a march of anger. We were angry about what happened to that girl. And we were trying to spread the word and tell people that it’s not lies. Forces do that, did that, and might do that to us as well anytime, anywhere, in the street or inside our houses.

So, first, it was like an angry voice. We were angry, and we wanted to support the girl. We wanted her to hear that we are all consolidated together. We were all trying here to let her know that she’s not alone. And we wanted to inform the rest of the population, men and women, that these practices can happen to them at any point of time.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the military council late yesterday, as your demonstration was winding up, did issue a statement apologizing for what happened. Do you think that’s enough?

MAY NABIL: They didn’t apologize. They didn’t actually apologize.

They were sorry. They said they were sorry of what happened. All women made fun of it, because we don’t beat, we don’t, like, do such practices and say, we are sorry. No, they said they feel sorry about what happened, but they didn’t say, “We are sorry about doing that.”

MARGARET WARNER: So, do you think this march was a one-time event, or do you think it will be the beginning of seeing more Egyptian women more actively involved in politics?

MAY NABIL: Well, no, this is not a one-time event, because, today, in Alexandria, the march took over there exactly with the same massive amount of women.

They started it. So I believe this is the start of a chain of protests conducted by women, because it’s — the fight is not for only a man there to conduct to — so, I believe women now are participated — participating. They have been participating before, but, right now, they are taking action towards what’s happening.

And I don’t think this is going to end here. So, today, we have another one in another city in Alexandria. And I believe it will not stop.

MARGARET WARNER: May Nabil, thank you so much for joining us.

MAY NABIL: Thank you, Margaret, so much. Thank you.