As if sexual harassment from men wasn't bad enough, women in Egypt also face religion-based harassment from other women.
In a form of assault that screams self-righteousness and internalized misogyny, women have cut the hair of other women and verbally harassed them in Egypt ... all because the victims do not wear the hijab.
There have been several reports of such attacks over the years, particularly in the country's metro stations. With the crowded platforms and inadequate security measures, assaulters have managed to escape without punishment in most cases.
The most recent documented incident of the kind took place in August 2019 and was reported by Vice Arabia after interviewing a victim named Nancy Magdi.
Speaking to the publication, Magdi revealed she had boarded the women's cart at the Cairo Metro and failed to find a vacant seat. She stood next to two women wearing the niqab (face veil). As soon as Magdi stepped out of the metro, one of the two women pulled her hair and chopped it using a sharp cutter. The door closed immediately and the metro drove away before Magdi could confront her attackers.
"(We did this) so that you start covering up," the women yelled in Arabic, while Magdi saw her hair scattered on the platform.
Magdi's experience is not an isolated incident. Back in 2012, a female metro passenger wearing the niqab chopped the hair of Maggie Milad Fayez, a young Christian woman who was 13-years-old at the time. Fayez had accidentally bumped into the assaulter in the crowded metro, leading to a verbal exchange between the two, before the latter discreetly cut the schoolgirl's hair.
Soon after, two niqab-wearing women assaulted and forcefully cut the hair of a Christian woman on a metro in Egypt. The assaulters reportedly called their victim an "infidel," pushed her off the metro, and thus broke her arm, according to Egypt Independent.
In April 2017, Egyptian journalist Rahma Samy took to Facebook to reveal she had been assaulted in a similar manner. Samy wrote that a woman attempted to cut her hair on the metro and told her, "You should respect yourself rather than flaunt this hair you are proud of."
Fortunately, passengers intervened before the assaulter could follow through with her attempt. The latter managed to escape and when Samy reported the incident to authorities, they failed to identify the perpetrator even though she did not wear a face veil.
"I would have never imagined that this would happen to me in a women's cart and that I would not be able to seek justice. I no longer feel safe walking alone in the streets because the morality police has taken over the entire population," Samy wrote.
The issue is alarming on so many levels
The topic sheds light on a number of alarming issues plaguing the Egyptian community, including religious extremism, intolerance against non-Muslims, authorities' failure to sufficiently protect women, as well as the debates surrounding the face veil.
At least 10 percent of Egypt's 95-million population are Christian, many of whom have admitted feeling unsafe in their own country. "You always feel that you are ready to be killed or kidnapped, just being a Christian with no hijab," Nour Al Masery, an Egyptian Christian woman, previously told StepFeed. "I always feel discriminated [against]."
"The widespread perception of Christian Egyptians as lesser citizens with lesser rights creates fertile ground for those who seek to incite violence against them," Timothy Kaldas, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in an op-ed for CNN following the bombing of two churches in Tanta and Alexandria in 2017.
According to Kaldas, Christians in Egypt suffer from "widespread everyday discrimination, both legal and social."
The attack on non-hijabi women also raises questions regarding the security concerns surrounding the face veil, which some believe emboldens women to carry out such acts without fearing identification. As such, several nations, including Muslim-majority countries Tunisia and Algeria, have imposed a ban on the niqab.
Still, until the root causes of such attacks are addressed, it remains the duty of the state to guarantee protection and heighten security measures on one hand, and empower women to seek justice and hold perpetrators accountable on the other.