“At that thin membrane, the hymen, narratives unfold and lives are determined. There, the binaries of the clean and the stained, the righteous and the debauched, the honorable and the shamed flourish. There the blurry border between the civilized and the backward, the liberated and the oppressed, the East and the West pretends to lie. There the claims to flesh as an evidentiary terrain stand.
For the last year and a half, one woman has chipped away at this edifice erected on her hymen. The task is larger than her. Yet whatever its outcome, her battle bares the force and the meaning of revolution.
Samira Ibrahim like hundreds of thousands of her compatriots reclaimed Tahrir Square on 25 January 2011. It would not be her first or last bid for freedom.
On 26 January just a day after the spark of revolution had begun to spread, she was detained.
Dissidence and its costs were not new to her.
She came from a line of Islamists who paid dearly for their opposition to Hosni Mubarak.
In Middle School, state security interrogated her for slicing through the rhetoric that celebrated Arab armies and their so-called brave confrontation of Israeli occupation.
But the trials in store were far beyond what these experiences could prepare her for.
She rejoiced along with millions when a popular uprising broke Mubarak’s thirty-year grip on Egypt.
But the revolution had cut authoritarianism only at its tip. The mutilation of the flesh had sown deep roots, roots the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) would attempt to further embed during their ostensibly transitional military rule.
In March 2011, the day after International Women’s Day, when a demonstration for gender equality turned ugly, Samira along with hundreds of others took to Tahrir Square once again.
She, along with seventeen other women were handcuffed and dragged from Tahrir Square to the Cairo Museum. At that vault of historical treasures spanning 4,000 years, military officers beat, electrocuted, poured water on, and slapped the women’s faces with their shoes. They orchestrated a portrait of incrimination, coercing the women to pose alongside Molotov cocktails, presenting them as government thugs and prostitutes just as they told the revolutionaries: “You have ruined the country.””