Samira Ibrahim, ‘Virginity Test’ Victim, Fights Egypt’s Military Rule
“Down with the military rule.”
Those were the first words uttered by Samira Ibrahim in a Cairo military courtroom upon hearing the acquittal of the army doctor accused of conducting a forced “virginity test” on her last year.
“Egypt’s judiciary has let itself down, rather than me,” Ibrahim told The Daily Beast a week after a military tribunal cleared the doctor of all charges. The 25-year-old activist remains determined to battle the case legally. “I am now in the process of taking the case to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” she states.
In March 2011, Ibrahim was arrested during protests in Tahrir Square, along with 17 other female activists. After being transferred to a military facility, seven women, including Ibrahim, were reportedly forced to strip their clothes and have their hymens checked by military physician Ahmed Adel, who was declared innocent on March 11.
“But the doctor was just carrying out orders,” Ibrahim says. “I originally filed the case against the military leaders who gave out the order. They should be standing trial, which is why I need to take this to an international court that is not under their jurisdiction.”
Egypt’s judiciary has come under increased scrutiny, particularly after verdicts such as that in Ibrahim’s case. Lawyers and political activists have questioned the independence of Egyptian courts and called for judicial reform.
Ibrahim said she believes her nation’s judicial system is corrupt. “The judiciary has betrayed the nation,” she asserts.
Multiple protests erupted all over Egypt after her assailant was declared innocent. Ibrahim says she was surprised to find protests not just outside of Cairo, but outside of Egypt, too. “There were protests in Europe, New York, and even Saudi Arabia,” she says incredulously.
“I was depressed last week after the verdict,” she admits. “But after the massive support I received, I am now stronger than ever. I realized that I can take on the army, because now I have an army of supporters on the street.” She says support she gets from Egyptian women gives her the strength to endure and persist.
Ibrahim declared her decision to pursue legal action against the military six months ago. Today, her resolve appears to have only strengthened. “If there is one thing I have learned from this ordeal, it is persistence,” she says. “I vow to continue this struggle until the very end, and until Egypt’s unfair laws are changed.”
Thanks to a case Ibrahim filed last year, a Cairo administrative court officially banned virginity tests on female detainees in military prisons.
“It is especially important to me that no woman is forced to go through what I went through,” she stressed.
Ibrahim said she believes the military specifically targeted women who defied them, and intended to break them emotionally. “When you break a woman, you break the entire society,” she says.
She remains outspoken about fighting sexual violence in all its forms. “I refuse to allow this,” she proclaims. “A woman’s body should not be used as a tool for intimidation, and nobody should have their dignity violated.”
Sexual harassment and abuse, though rampant, remain too sensitive for public discussion in the conservative Egyptian society. Ibrahim challenged the norms by speaking out publicly about the sexual assault she was subjected to. “Our society considers sexual abuse a taboo subject,” she says. “By speaking out about this, I hope it gives women strength, and encourages them to be brave and fight sexual harassment.”
“Any woman who was sexually violated should defy society and speak out,” she adds.
Ibrahim is not too optimistic about women’s rights in Egypt in the upcoming period. “Women’s rights are being violated by those currently in power—the military and the Islamists,” she says. “I hope that Egyptian women remain strong and outspoken, because if we stay silent, we will be wiped out of society and our rights will be purposefully neglected.”
Ibrahim’s courage landed her a spot in Newsweek’s 150 Women Who Shake the World. “I was surprised, humbled, and honored to find myself on the list,” she said, adding that she was especially thrilled to be included on a list with Manal al-Sharif, from Saudi Arabia, and Tawakkol Karman, from Yemen, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year.
“I look up to these two women and have so much respect for them,” she said. “They defied societies that are even more conservative and strict than mine.”