For 18 days in January 2011, millions of Egyptians protested and fought a brutal battle against state police demanding social justice, freedom and dignity. On Feb. 11, Egyptians celebrated the removal of a 30-year-old dictatorship supported by the United States. However, as protestors began to leave the public squares, counter-revolutionary state forces regrouped and forcefully began arresting and attacking protestors, including women.
New Mexico State University gender and sexuality studies professor, Manal Hamzeh, recently published her book, “Women Resisting Sexual Violence and the Egyptian Revolution: Arab Feminist Testimonies,” documenting and uplifting the testimonios, shahadat in Arabic, of women protesters who faced intense backlash from Egypt’s state authorities.
“This book is a journey of hours and hours of witnessing the details of Egyptian women's experiences of state-sanctioned sexual violence that have forever changed me,” Hamzeh said.
Professor Dolores Delgado Bernal from California State University wrote Hamzeh’s book “is a painfully beautiful and powerful account of ... Arab feminist movements, resilience and healing.”
Between 2011 and 2018, Hamzeh made five trips to Cairo to document women’s resistance to counter-revolution forces firsthand. The 272-page book published by Zed Books in June covers eight years’ worth of women’s testimonios, first-person public accounts of politically significant experiences of state-sanctioned violence against women.
The testimonios in Hamzeh’s book are representations of Egyptian women’s experiences of the military, police and militias violence after the 2011 revolution. They are testimonios of women who dared to speak out and have rarely been written about, especially as powerful resistance tools.
“A day after International Women's Day in March 2011, the warning signs of the state's violence targeting women became apparent,” Hamzeh said. “As a result, I began to pay attention to anything relevant to women activists coming out on social media.”
After talking to the protesters in Cairo, reading the mounting numbers of testimonios on social media, and seeing the massive protests of women, Hamzeh became more intentional about collecting Egyptian women's online testimonios, especially those who experienced state-sanctioned sexual violence.
“It became clear to me that there was an urgency to understand and disseminate the testimonios of Egyptian women who were assaulted by the militarist and Islamist regimes that were adamant about defeating the revolution at any price,” Hamzeh said. “In five visits to Cairo, I built relationships with women activists in Egypt, earned their trust, searched their online testimonios about state-sanctioned sexual violence against women, and translated them from Arabic to an English reading audience.”
As an Arab feminist, Hamzeh was moved personally by the Egyptian revolution.
“I wanted to be in Egyptian squares, I wanted to be inside the revolution with people imagining a new life, and I wanted to live my Arabness anew,” Hamzeh said.
“So, as an academic in the heart of the U.S. Empire, I was responsible for re-representing Egyptian women's experiences in the revolution and preserving their collective memories. Despite my geographical distance from Egypt, I felt a profound ethical responsibility to carry Egyptian women’s testimonios across meanings, spaces, borders, languages, textures, feelings etc.”
Hamzeh plans to incorporate her research into at least two of the courses she teaches for the gender and sexuality studies program in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies – “Feminist Research Methodologies” and “Revolutionary Women.” By incorporating these stories in her teaching, they can serve as an accessible example to learn about decolonial feminist research methodologies.
Hamzeh is hopeful readers of her book will become inspired by the power of testimonios, the theorizing of Egyptian women’s own revolution, and their resistance to state-sanctioned violence against women.
Learn more about Hamzeh’s book and research at https://genders.nmsu.edu/faculty/manal-hamzeh/.