My Body, My violence and My Political Resistance: Rape, Public Testimony, and Silence at the Margins of Tahrir

By Marta Agosti
Submitted to Session P4938 (Gendering the Body in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
In November 2012, Egyptian musician and activist Yasmine el-Baramawy was assaulted in a mob attack while protesting in the revolutionary space of Tahrir Square. Of her assault, she said, “Definitely I could confront rape and get back at the society who condemns the victim… I can't get rid of it and I can't get used to it although I managed to transform it into something useful, but it is always there eating my soul.” Similarly, activist Hend (pseudonym), who was assaulted in December 2013, noted, “The police do something different with every individual. They concentrate on the weaknesses… I would rather go down as a traitor to the country than as a whore, because this way they would kill me socially.” Through these statements and the experiences of these two women, I examine varying forms of embodied resistance to the Egyptian security apparatus’s use of rape as a technology to discipline the revolutionary body. Through both public testimony and silence, Yasmine and Hend have articulated political resistance with one shared objective: regaining the agency extirpated from their bodies the day they were raped. Yasmine sought to overcome the risk of a social death by publicly showing on TV the remnants of her ripped cloths. Hend chose silence, since following events of Raba’a public support for revolutionary youth was scarce. She knew her social death would lead to her public and activist death.

Based on interviews with Hend and Yasmine, therapists, survivors and fieldwork, this paper addresses the technologies of domination and body regulation that tailor the possibilities of embodied resistance and healing in post-revolutionary Egypt. Drawing from Anthropology of Health, I focus on the production of narratives emanating from survivors that ponder, act upon and react against the torture afflicted on their bodies with the intended will of “breaking” and turning the survivors into “vulnerable bodies”. Thus, I aim to interrogate the political condition of the “vulnerable” as a form of resistance to the technologies of domination. In doing so, I explore an alternative framework to study the body that moves away from “rescuing” and “victim” narratives and instead accounts for political activism as an element that bargains with social taboos and public opinion in the production of narratives of healing and resistance of survivors of sexual violence.