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This is my letter to the Egyptian men, written with compassion and love. A female expat’s view on and experience with sexual harassment in Egypt.
If you don’t know me yet, let me quickly introduce myself: I’m a 29-year old German woman who first came to Egypt almost 3 years ago.
I fell in love with Sinai instantly. Since I work online, I was lucky enough to be able to make Dahab my home base.
I blog about Egypt quite a lot, and I have always promoted this country and encouraged many people, especially women, to visit.
I love Egypt and I don’t want this article to be a negative one.
My Intention For Writing This Article
I just want to give you a peek into a woman’s experience here, and I want to appeal to everyone reading it to make it a better place for all human beings, male or female, including yourself.
I’ve thought about this letter for a very long time, but I have to admit that I was scared. Dahab is a small town, many people know me.
And I know there will be many who don’t like what I have to say, and that’s the reason most women never say anything.
I’ve tried to write this (and see this whole issue) with compassion, understanding, and love instead of anger and judgment, and I hope I found the right voice to express that.
I’m not here to preach, I’m just sharing my honest view of an issue in Egypt that really influences and hurts me, and often completely preoccupies my mind because it’s in conflict with the love I feel for this country.
This inner conflict is very intense and I can’t stay here consistently. I leave the country every few months and go to different places in order to remind myself that this is not the norm, it’s a big problem Egypt has and I really hope that more people can speak about it so this country we all love has a chance to change for the better.
Please read this with an open mind and compassion, the same way I tried to write it. Obviously, there are also lots of exceptions, I’m not saying that all Egyptian men harass women. Should be clear.
Why I’m Writing This NOW
I recently got back from a diving safari – 4 days on a liveaboard in the Red Sea. I was a regular paying customer and I didn’t know the manager of the dive center before I booked the trip.
I knew in advance that I would be the only woman on this boat, along with a group of Kuwaitis and Jordanians. That’s not unusual here and doesn’t bother me per se.
As soon as the trip started, the manager began hitting on me. I felt a bit nauseous the first hour or so since the boat was rocking heavily.
His reaction to my sickness was to tell me that I would feel the waves less in his bed, and I would get a massage.
He put me in a difficult situation. I was his customer and I was relying on him. If I started voicing how inappropriate that is, he could make my trip pretty miserable.
Also, keeping peace and happiness is a super important thing in this culture, speaking about issues is not as common as where I come from.
So I was feeling extremely uncomfortable, and I was constantly thinking about how to solve this situation peacefully.
I shouldn’t have had to worry about any of this though. I paid good money to have a few nice days of vacation, which I desperately needed.
It was not okay for him to put me in a situation like this. After all, I was in the middle of the sea for four days and if things went sideways, I didn’t have the chance to just escape the situation like I could on land.
He used his power over me and my situation. He probably didn’t even think about it, but this is how it was for me.
How Sexual Advances By Men Make Me Feel
I wasn’t scared that I would be raped, that’s not what I’m saying. I just felt very, very small. And sad.
Sad that sex is the only thing so many men here think of when they meet me. Who I am as a person is not of interest.
And I felt angry that I have to spend so much energy and thoughts on trying to deal with this situation instead of being able to relax and enjoy the trip.
I’m used to guys hitting on me, that’s what I experience every day. I can’t leave the house for two minutes without men catcalling, whistling, staring at me.
Most of the time, I’m able to ignore it and not make a big deal out of it.
So I politely refused his “generous offer” and kept my smile, trying not to let it affect me too much and keep the peace for everyone.
Trying not to be a troublemaker or a drama queen (how twisted is that when you really think about it?! He is causing trouble and I’m trying to fix it by accepting his behavior).
When he offered to massage me for the third time, I had enough. What does a woman have to do until a man understands she is not interested?
Saying NO again and again apparently isn’t enough. And getting loud and firm as a woman is seen as being a drama queen.
What options do I have? What do you need me to do so you understand?
Egyptian Culture – The Good And The Bad
The Egyptian culture that tries to keep peace at all costs and make everyone happy has lots of benefits – but also downsides. It’s an admirable character trait and one that many European cultures should adopt more of.
It’s a big reason why your experience as a visitor in Egypt will be memorable, you will be greeted with amazing hospitality you won’t forget.
At the same time though, it’s also something that seriously harms this country. When conflict is to be avoided all the time, it’s incredibly hard to speak up when you are mistreated, as you will not get much support from the outside.
Speaking up interferes with getting along peacefully with everyone, which is so important here.
It’s the reason I’m afraid to publish this as well. Even though I’m a pretty tough person and I have the chance to leave this place at any time, I’m scared of the implications that writing this will have for me.
I can’t even begin to imagine how an Egyptian woman must feel, and I more than understand why they are silent and just accept that “that’s the way it is here”.
Well, it shouldn’t be.
“90% of Egyptian men, but also 70% of women, responded in a survey that they believe that women should “tolerate violence to keep the family together.”
JUST NO. STRONG, HARD NO.
Speaking about issues doesn’t have to be seen as something that destroys peace. It’s the only way of improving.
And let’s be honest, we all know that (even though we love Egypt so much), there is a lot of room for improvement in this country.
Being challenged by cultural differences
Growing up in Europe and now living in a Middle Eastern country is obviously challenging because the two cultures are so different.
And I’m not saying that my culture is better than yours, or your culture is better than mine. There’s a lot of upsides AND downsides to both cultures.
I really don’t want to come across as the privileged white girl from Europe who knows better, because I don’t.
I actually don’t live in Germany because I don’t like the culture there (ok, admittedly the shitty weather plays a role, too).
I based myself in Egypt because this culture is more appealing to me. But that doesn’t mean that everything about it is great.
Sexual harassment is not part of a culture, it’s wrong and disrespectful behavior towards another human being. And keeping peace shouldn’t be more important than decent behavior.
Don’t Try To Bullshit Me
Back to my boat story.
I spoke up and told the manager that it’s absolutely inappropriate behavior and I feel very uncomfortable and I will no longer ignore his disrespectful behavior as a manager toward me.
He apologized that I “misunderstood” him and that he was just trying to cheer me up because I looked sad and I went through a breakup. He was not hitting on me, he said.
That’s when I finally got so upset that I didn’t care about being a good, silent girl anymore who needs to adapt so that men would not feel uncomfortable.
Man, I’m no idiot.
I’m 29 years old and I’ve been around. I know that men don’t offer to share their bed and massages to women without any intentions whatsoever.
Come on, we all know that. Are you really going to pretend that I’m completely making up that you’re trying to hit on me? Seriously?
It’s embarrassing for you, not me, because everyone can see what’s going on. After all, you didn’t offer massages to the men on the boat, did you? It’s just so obvious and you’re making a fool of yourself.
Apologizing that I misunderstood what you said is even more disrespectful than not apologizing at all, because you’re trying to make me look like an idiot instead.
I get it, it takes a lot of courage to admit that you’ve been hitting on someone and you got rejected. It’s painful to the ego, so it’s easier to make me feel small than allowing yourself to feel small.
What Goes Around Comes Around
It was a power struggle between the two of us. He couldn’t admit his mistake, and I refused to let him off the hook and allow him to make me feel bad in order for him to keep his pride intact.
He chose his ego. The consequence is that I will not keep quiet about him sexually harassing his female customer and I recommend to avoid using his dive center.
Luckily, I actually have a voice because most people who come to Dahab for the first time will find my blog at the top of every Google search about the area.
And I decided to use that voice because most women who are treated like this will never be heard. I will receive criticism for this, but I have to learn to deal with not everyone liking me.
The disrespectful behavior of that dive center manager has consequences for him. He didn’t gain anything at all by doing this, he harmed his business and lost credibility and eventually money because of what he did.
And that’s what happens with all sexual harassment or any wrong behavior in general. It will come back to you one way or the other, even if it’s not showing as clearly as in this case.
Taking Advantage Never Plays Out To Your Advantage
No, he didn’t rape me. He didn’t physically assault me.
But he ruined my first liveaboard experience and a well-deserved vacation because he thought he might have a chance to have his sex drive satisfied.
He knew that I just went through a breakup and tried to take advantage of my pain and the feeling that most women (and men, actually) struggle with after a breakup – the question: Am I not lovable enough?
If you don’t think that such behavior towards me and women in general is bad, try to imagine me as someone you know and respect.
I don’t know your individual situation, but would you like someone to treat your daughter like this? Your little sister, your wife, or your mother?
Would you like them to be in a situation they can’t escape from and be subjected to a man’s advances although they clearly said that they are not interested in him? You’re protective of them, aren’t you?
In the same way, it’s not okay for anyone to pressure any other woman. We’re all someone’s daughter or sister.
It’s A Fine Line Between Flirting And Harassment
I’m not saying that it’s not okay to flirt with women, not at all. It’s part of life and it can be really fun as long as both sides think it’s fun.
I expect men to pick up on the clues that women give you. No means No. And I’m aware that it’s not always clear and a woman’s behavior can be interpreted in different ways sometimes.
That’s why you need to make 100% sure it’s enjoyable for both of you. If you’re confused, just be honest and ask what she thinks.
I especially understand that it’s hard to understand Western women because we’re from such a different culture and we dress differently.
Yes, a lot of us have been raised with a more open view on sexuality, but what you see in porn movies e.g. is nowhere close to reality.
It must be difficult for a man to make sense of their upbringing in a conservative country like Egypt with the sexual desires they have, and it’s all probably super confusing with these new influences from Europe and the US.
I understand that.
But it’s not really that difficult.
A woman’s outfit for example doesn’t matter, the only thing which that expresses is what kind of fashion she likes, not how she wants a man to treat her. Yes, even in a religious country.
And statistics show that it doesn’t even matter whether you’re covered up entirely or walk around in shorts – harassment happens to all women, no matter how conservatively they dress.
Think of how you would want someone to treat your daughter or your sister. You wouldn’t want a man to pressure her in any way, and I think you already know how to not do that yourself.
Women are not to blame when you have sexual desires, whether they are appropriate or not. They are your feelings, and you have the power to not act on them.
Even a woman showing skin is no excuse for you to act out on your primal instincts. It’s a chance for you to show that you are stronger than that and not an animal because that’s the difference God (if you believe in God/Allah or any higher power) created between us and animals.
You have a choice. It’s a powerful ability God entrusted us with.
Shocking Statistics About Sexual Harassment in Egypt
- Reports by national and international organizations reveal that more than 99 percent of Egyptian women have been subject to sexual harassment.
- According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Cairo is the most dangerous megacity in the world for women.
- According to a report that interviewed about 10,000 people from the Middle East, both men and women, 64 percent of Egyptian men admitted that they harassed women.
- In a recent survey, it was revealed that about 43 percent of men in Egypt believe that women like the attention and they admire being sexually harassed.
It’s shocking to me that men actually believe we enjoy getting unwanted attention 24/7, but it also reveals why it’s such a big problem. A lot of you guys don’t even know. And that’s because not enough people speak about it.
So I’m saying it to you now: WE DO NOT ENJOY IT!!!
Harassment On Social Media
I’m a micro-influencer and I get inappropriate messages on my Instagram daily. Egyptian (and other) men are telling me they love me although they’ve never met me. Or how sexy I am.
Some are offering foot massages, some plain out ask for sex, some send weird poems. Yes, it’s a wild mix of totally inappropriate messages.
Let’s be real:
Do they really think I’m going to meet up with some stranger who sent me “sexy” messages on the internet? And then end up having sex with them, or even madly falling in love with them?
What I do, and any woman with a little self-respect and dignity, is I either laugh at these messages or I get upset why those men think they have the right to speak to me the way they do.
Here’s How I Want To Be Treated
I met my Egyptian boyfriend on the beach. I was wearing a bikini, ready to go snorkeling. He was about to go on a boat trip with his friend. He recognized me from my blog and we just talked about Dahab for a bit.
His friend complimented the tattoo on my upper leg, which made my future boyfriend really uncomfortable because it clearly showed that his friend was checking out my body.
He realized I felt uncomfortable, too, so he took his friend and left. When we talked again a few days later, he apologized to me about his friend’s behavior.
He made me feel respected as a human being and not just an object. He showed me that Egyptian men are not “all the same” (as it’s easy to think that sometimes) and balanced out some of the harassment I faced every day.
I will always respect him for that.
This Isn’t Advice On How To Get Me In Bed
Wouldn’t you rather be someone who has a real positive impact on a person’s life and builds a long-lasting connection?
But learning this respect for women, although most guys around you do the opposite (it may be hard for you a lot of times because of peer pressure!), is what you can do to “make Egypt great again”.
It doesn’t take much. You don’t need to become an activist for women, just act with kindness and respect in your day to day life – towards everyone around you.
With disrespectful behavior towards women, you’re contributing to the bad state your country is in. It’s easy to blame it all on the government, it’s harder to actually do your part so that this country improves.
Egypt’s Reputation In The World
Do you know what a lot of female travelers say about Egypt?
They had never faced such discriminatory behavior in their life anywhere else in the world.
If you look at women’s experiences in places other than Dahab e.g. (where women are not subject to as much harassment as in other parts of Egypt), you will actually see that many of them who didn’t come in a protected group tour hated Egypt.
They say they will never come back and tell all their friends about their bad experience. It’s no wonder Egypt has such a bad reputation in the minds of so many people worldwide and why women are being warned to come here.
And it hurts me because I know what an amazing country Egypt is and how loving and kind the people are, the men included.
See how that influences an entire economy?
The Effects Of Sexual Harassment On Egypt’s Economy
Tourism in Egypt is such a big part of the economy and the lack of tourists in the last decade or so has seriously affected this country.
So many people become unemployed when there’s no tourism, and it has directly to do with the behavior towards guests, especially female ones.
It’s not just because of terrorism or a crappy government that tourists aren’t coming as they used to, it’s also because of harassing and scamming visitors.
The question is:
Are you doing your part to make this country a better place or are you adding to the problems it has?
Are you changing what you can change, which means your behavior, and your behavior only?
Because if not, you can’t complain and blame the government for everything that goes wrong here.
You’re part of the problem, as hard as that sounds.
It begins in such little things as treating women with respect, every day.
I tried writing this with compassion in mind, instead of just placing blame because I know that it wouldn’t change anything.
And I also know that growing up in a country where sexual harassment is an absolutely normal part of everyday life makes it incredibly hard to see that there’s something wrong with it.
And that’s not just hard to see for men, it’s hard to see for women as well.
“84% of Egyptian women believe that “women who dress provocatively deserve to be harassed.”
It’s mind-boggling to me, but makes total sense, because they never experienced a world where that’s not the case. But there is.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be. Life shouldn’t be harder for women than for men.
I believe that Egyptian women built a thick skin. They had to in order to not go crazy here.
But man, they really shouldn’t have to.
Every man and every woman should feel respected.
We All Want To Feel Love And Connection
I think that inside, we all crave connection and we want to do the right thing and not harm others. If we do behave in a harmful way, it’s usually because we have been hurt and we think that hurting someone else will protect us from more pain.
The problem is that it’s a never-ending chain of pain, because the people you hurt will in turn hurt others again, and so on.
The only way to break this destructive pattern is if we choose to be kind BECAUSE we’ve been wronged.
We have to choose not to continue this behavior because we know it brings pain to others, the same pain we experienced before and the same pain we don’t really wish anyone else has to go through.
‘An eye for an eye’ has turned this world into a world full of war and hate and indescribable pain.
The people who actually made a difference were not the people who retaliated, who reacted to attacks with counter-attacks. The people who made a change were people like Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The people who broke the chain of pain and chose kindness and respect for all human beings, no matter how much they’ve been wronged.
This applies to women as well. If you’ve been hurt as a woman, as pretty much all of us have been, do not pass on the anger. Don’t let your pain out on people, children or animals, who have nothing to do with how you’ve been wronged.
Speak up. Break the pattern.
Make a difference for your children, so that they may never have to go through what you’ve been through.
Here are some simple things a man can do to make a difference:
- Don’t catcall, don’t whistle, don’t pressure women.
- Especially as a business owner, treat your female customers with the utmost respect and not different than your male customers.
- Openly say that you’re not okay with this behavior towards women. Some of your friends may make fun of you. Let them. You don’t want people spreading negativity in your life. Maybe you’ve heard of the saying that you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Choose good people. By speaking about this, you show all of the women in your life that you respect them, and you will, in turn, earn their respect and their support. You’re attracting the right people into your life by showing that you’re a decent human being, and this will change the course of your entire life.
- If you’re a woman reading this, speak up. Don’t let men belittle you. Because apparently, almost half of the men don’t even know that we as women don’t like how we are treated by men. It’s our responsibility to speak up and make them hear us.
- If you see someone harassing a woman, say something. Stop it. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right, you will be rewarded for it, I promise. It’s in your hand to change the feeling and experience of the women you meet. And if all men do their own little part, you can change the entire atmosphere of your country. Not just for tourists and women coming to visit. You can change the entire direction your country is heading in because women are much stronger than you may think. Egyptians already showed the courage and the power they have. You can start a new revolution by choosing to be respectful every day, it doesn’t require nearly as much energy as bringing down a political leader. Changing the small world around you is what makes the biggest difference because you have no control over anything else anyways.
Thank you so much for reading this. I hope nobody feels offended and understands my intention, but if you do feel offended: Malesh (For the foreign audience: Malesh means Sorry in Arabic)!
You will have to deal with that yourself, I’m not gonna justify my feelings. Feel free to write your own article and share your opinion on this subject 🙂
Letter to Egyptian Men – Pin for later!
If you’re traveling to Egypt, be sure you make the most of your trip by reading my other articles. I’ve been based here since 2016 and learned a lot that will help you 🙂
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