VIDEO: Egyptian women sues army over forced virginity tests, abuse

The World

Samira Ibrahim, 25, made a seven-hour train ride to Cairo Monday night, to hear the verdict in her case against the Egyptian army.

She sued the army and accuses the miliaty of subjecting her to torture and abuse, including a so-called “virginity test,” while in military detention back in March. Judges had promised to issue a verdict on Tuesday.

Standing on the front steps of a Cairo courthouse, her round face wrapped tightly in a fuchsia headscarf, Ibrahim admitted she was nervous. But there was something that gave her confidence. About a dozen Egyptian friends, activists and lawyers came to court to support her.

A young, bearded Egyptian engineer named Hossam al-Din introduced himself as a Salafi, an ultra-conservative branch of Islam. Al-Din said he met Samira Ibrahim in early February in Tahrir Square. He has gotten to know her since then and he’s here because what happened to Ibrahim could happen to any Egyptian girl – Christian or Muslim, he said – under this military government. That’s not acceptable.

Tuesday in court was a big disappointment. The judge did not make a ruling. Instead the case was postponed until late December. After the announcement, Ibrahim was visibly frustrated.

“I’m not angry,” Ibrahim says. “They’re just stalling, trying to kill my case. But I’m not going to give up.”

Ibrahim has described what happened to her – in detail – in a video posted online:

Ibrahim, along with 16 other women, were detained during a demonstration on March 9. She was held for four days and during that time, she said, soldiers beat her repeatedly. They subjected her to electric shocks, screamed at her and threatened her. Then, worst of all, they made her strip so a man in a military uniform could check to see if she was a virgin.

She felt like she had been raped.

In June, Ibrahim filed a criminal complaint against the army, but the case has gone nowhere. So she filed suit in civil court, with the help of several human rights groups. They are asking judges to rule on the legality of Ibrahim’s treatment by the military. If they win the case, it could amount to a serious legal blow to Egypt’s military rulers.

Ahmed Hossam, Ibrahim’s lawyer, stood outside the courtroom smoking one cigarette after another. He said this case was incredibly sensitive politically. Hossam is not sure how the judges will rule.

Observers say it is hard to overstate just how much courage it takes for Ibrahim to go through with her case. Ibrahim isn’t the only woman who has been subjected to “virginity tests” while in military detention, but sexual abuse carries a powerful stigma, said Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch.

“Egypt remains a very conservative society and even talking about the fact that these virginity tests took place is very difficult for young women,” Morayef said. “In fact, most of the women who’ve been subjected to these forced virginity tests have not wanted to come forward.”

Ibrahim’s lawyer said the case is probably being held up because the political atmosphere is so sensitive right now, with the recent violence and ongoing parliamentary elections.

“There’s not much to do now,” he said. “Except to wait.”

As for Ibrahim, she won’t wait for anything. Minutes after the disappointing announcement in the courtroom, she joined a small group of demonstrators and together, they marched straight back to Tahrir Square.

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