General admits “virginity checks” done on Egyptian women

CNN is reporting what many women activists inside and outside Egypt have long witnessed and believed: so-called “virginity checks” were done on women who were arrested during demonstrations in the spring.

“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general [Maj. Amr Imam] said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).” The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn’t later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities. “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,” the general said. “None of them were (virgins).”

The initial report of virginity checks were made public in March by Amnesty International, which the organization said 18 women were in military detention after Egypt’s military broke up a March 9 protest. The women were “beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges,” according to Amnesty International.

You can read the rest of the report, which is pretty graphic and horrifying, but not surprising. We all know that during times of crisis, women and children often face the brunt of political torture and sexual violence.

In his haphazard admission, the general justifies the military conducting these so-called virginity checks on women who decided to join their male counterparts and demand the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. By noting these were “girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters,” Maj. Imam seems to imply these women were the lowest of the low (read: prostitutes) and the military were well within their right to conduct these checks. With these virginity checks, the military was just protecting itself from these lowly women and their insipid claims of rape or sexual assault, the general implies.

The general seeks to appeal to the general audience by saying these women weren’t like “your daughters or mine.” Your daughter or mine, the general believes, wouldn’t allow their morals or character to be compromised by sharing drug-filled tents with men on Tahrir Square. Your daughter or mine, the general believes, wouldn’t need to be subjected to this form of sexual torture because they were good, virginal women who know their place.

Maj. Imam’s comments and excuses are a reflection of a global culture that sexually dehumanizes and degrades women, particularly those who step into the public sphere reserved only for men. While the Egyptian uprising on the surface appeared to be egalitarian, with both men and women marching side by side in the streets, many women of Egypt were physically and sexually assaulted by angry mobs.

More from the CNN story:

The senior Egyptian general said the 149 people detained after the March 9 protest were subsequently tried in military courts, and most have been sentenced to a year in prison. Authorities later revoked those sentences “when we discovered that some of the detainees had university degrees, so we decided to give them a second chance,” he said. The senior general reaffirmed that the military council was determined to make Egypt’s democratic transition a success. “The date for handover to a civil government can’t come soon enough for the ruling military council,” he said. “The army can’t wait to return to its barracks and do what it does best — protect the nation’s borders.”

I wonder how many of those 149 detainees were women who were given second chances once authorities found out they had university degrees…

Maj. Imam uses the sympathy card on behalf of the Egyptian army, lamenting how strenuous it has been for his troops to serve as temporary leaders in a country undergoing a “peaceful” democratic transition of power. I’m pretty sure his boys and men conducting these virginity checks and other forms of torture had no qualms or reservations about their power and responsibility when they subjected scores, possibly hundreds, of women to their sexually deviant behavior.