Yara Yousry, Merna Tawfik, Hilda Momen Herky, and Injy Mazhar el-Sheikh are four young Egyptian women in their early twenties who recently traveled to London to take a journalism class sponsored by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. During their trip, they sat down with Melanie McDonagh from the London Evening Standard for a series of brief interviews, offering their perspectives about the incredible violence that recently erupted in their country, as well as their hopes for Egypt's future.
While the young women share some elements of their middle-class background and journalistic interests, they offer a glimpse into the under-represented voices of Egypt's young women during this period of tumult. While the four young women interviewed differ in some respects on their political views, a common thread among them is a profound disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood's record on women's rights. Three of the four women interviewed expressed that under Morsi's presidency, they personally experienced gender-based harassment that they had not previously encountered. All three relayed hope that the international media would pay closer attention to the voices of Egyptians who are being ignored, particularly women, in the road ahead to rebuild a more peaceful and prosperous Egypt.
Merna is still a student, while Hilda and Injy recently graduated from university. Yara is an assistant at a school in Cairo. All four women are Muslim. Two wear a veil.
Yara spoke harshly of the Muslim Brotherhood's rule in her country. Under Morsi's rule, she insisted, "security collapsed," noting as an example a car accident on her mother's street that ended up in gunfire. "I don't want the Brotherhood back," she insisted. "Their supporters behaved in a rude, violent way." She added that the foreign media has not captured the full picture in its admonishing of security forces, claiming the Islamists are also to blame for the outbreak of violence. "The Muslim Brotherhood are trying to portray themselves as victims in the foreign media, calling for international interference," she said, adding, "Foreign journalists should be talking to the local media and local people, including people like my aunt and cousins who are in favor of Morsi coming back."
Merna agreed with Yara that the Muslim Brotherhood's rule was harmful for Egyptians. "Women had a hard time," she insisted. "On the first day [Morsi] took power a man came up to me and said, by the way you have to wear the veil." She explained that this should be her choice, saying, "For the past year, we felt it wasn’t our country."
Yara feared that the Brotherhood's return to power would make things "worse for women." "They want to make Egypt like Saudi Arabia," she warned, saying, "Well, in Egypt women are different. We have Christian and Jewish women too … what are you going to do with them? We Egyptians have a very close bond between us."
Hilda was not as quick to blame the Muslim Brotherhood. "I blame both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood for what’s happened," she said, adding, "In the presidential election I chose Morsi. I didn’t want to support the old regime so I chose him for what he could offer us — but I was disappointed. A year with a lot of catastrophes isn’t acceptable."
Injy, who is only 20 and the youngest of those interviewed, echoed her colleagues' sentiment that Morsi's rule was particularly hard on Egypt's women. "The last year was horrible," she said. "We live in a quiet, respectable area. But I was harassed as a woman for the first time." She added, "I feel resentment at the international media," who was not, she claimed, capturing the full picture of Islamist brutality. While she did not wish for international intervention in Egypt's affairs, she expressed hope "for elections soon," this time "with proper candidates."
While these women present just four voices from Egypt's diverse youth population, they offer a valuable account as young female citizens whose voices aren't prominent in Egypt's political landscape. With allegations of a major upsurge in sexual attacks against women during the recent eruption of violence in the country, making sure their voices are heard is more important than ever in rebuilding a safe and flourishing future for Egypt.
The rest of the interviews are available here.