The XX Factor

Egypt Admits to “Virginity Tests” Against Detained Protesters

Hosni Mubarak’s resignation amid pro-democracy protests in Egypt might have been welcome in many corners of the world, and it might have helped fuel the Arab Spring, but it also created a huge power vacuum and the all-important question: Who’s in charge now?  And, more specifically: How will they treat women? The brutal attack on CBS correspondent Lara Logan amid the chaos of the post-resignation celebrations was an eerie symbolic warning flare for women.

The military immediately took over, and now it looks like concerns over a new regime’s attitude toward woman are unfortunately justified. The military today admitted that it did “virginity tests” on women who were arrested at a Tahrir Square demonstration that took place one month after Mubarak’s resignation.  And why should such women be subject to such tests?  “[S]o that the women wouldn’t later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities,” according to Maj. Amr Imam. But it’s OK, really, as he explains in an article posted by CNN:

“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,” the general said. “These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs).”

The comments are so ridiculous that they are almost beyond comment. If the women aren’t virgins before their arrest, it means they can’t be raped? If a woman isn’t a “good girl,” it’s OK to subject her to a horrible test? It’s hard to think of something to say in response that isn’t head-pounding-against-the-desk obvious. But we can’t just ignore them either.

Because the actual description of the virginity test is terrifying: One of the women who was arrested told Amnesty International that she was tied up, slapped, and then shocked with a stun gun. And then? “The treatment got worse, Hosseini said, when she and the 16 other female prisoners were taken to a military detention center in Heikstep.” Stun guns. Male doctors, and male soldiers watching as witnesses.

The Egyptian general said the military was trying to protect soldiers from false claims of rape. But in the process, it came frighteningly close to committing that crime against the women in its custody.