Friday, May 6, 2011

Lara Logan speaks out about assault in Egypt

Written by Bikya Masr
29 April 2011

CAIRO: For the first time since American reporter Lara Logan was attacked by a mob at Tahrir Square in February, the journalist is speaking out. In an interview with the American news program “60 Minutes,” the CBS correspondent says that during the attack she “thought she was going to die.”

On February 11, Logan was in Tahrir Square preparing for a live report for America’s CBS News, when the crowd turned violent and she was separated from her cameraman and crew. In an interview with the New York Times, which published on Thursday, Lara Logan says she was ripped away from her team, including an elite British bodyguard, by a group of men who tore away her clothes and beat her. To address the reports that she was raped, Logan told Brian Stelter of the New York Times, “for an extended period of time, they raped me with their hands.”
According to her interview in the Times, Ms Logan estimates that the attack lasted for about 40 minutes and involved between 200 and 300 men.

For about an hour, Logan says that she was able to interview participants in the crowd at Tahrir and the mood was one of celebration. Then her Egyptian interpreter said he heard conversations in the Arabic-speaking crowd which gave him reasons to believe something sinister was about to take place. The interpreter advised Lara and her team to immediately get out of the crowd and find a safe place, but before that could happen, the mob of several hundred surrounded Ms Logan, separating her from her entire crew, and encircled her.

Logan said in her interview with “60 Minutes,” that what happened next was a sexual assault and beating that she feared she would not survive. “There was no doubt in my mind that I was in the process of dying,” she said. “I thought not only am I going to die, but its going to be just a torturous death that’s going to go on forever…”

What kept Logan determined to survive her attack, she says, were the thoughts of her two young children. A group of Egyptian women and soldiers rescued Logan after they were able to break through the crowd and reach her. Egyptian soldiers drove Ms Logan and her team back to their hotel, where she received an examination and medical treatment. She returned to the United States the following morning where she entered hospital for four days.

The reaction in Egypt to Lara Logan’s assault was one of anger and shock. Many in Egypt’s pro-democracy community which supported the revolution, immediately spoke out against the attack on Ms Logan, and the issue of women’s rights finally came out from the shadows. There were others who would have preferred to silence those who spoke out about violence against women.

After the attack on Logan became news, Egyptian-American activist, Karim Mohy, took to Facebook to create a group in order to form a demonstration to put pressure on the new Egyptian government to bring Logan’s attackers to justice. According to Mohy, the response to his Facebook call to action was not met entirely with support. Some responded to the call to demonstrate with disappointment that an attack on a “foreign white woman” is gaining so much attention, while harassment against Egyptian women on a daily basis goes mostly ignored.

Dalia Ziada, who heads the American Islamic Congress in Cairo, and who frequently writes about Egyptian human rights, said after the incident that what occurred against Ms Logan is “an unusual occurrence” in Egypt. Ziada reported that during the overnight demonstrations to oust former President Mubarak, there were men and women both, “sleeping in Tahrir Square and yet there were almost no reports of abuse.”

This controversy highlighted the sensitivity in Egypt when it comes to openly discussing sexual harassment and assaults against women. Only in recent years have women’s rights groups been able to garner any government support in their fight for criminalizing such crimes on women and girls.

Another issue that came up after the attack on Ms Logan was timing. Several comments online by Egyptians involved in the revolution and expatriates living abroad, showed concern that the assault on Lara Logan and the sensationalized media reporting in the West would overshadow the victory at Tahrir Square. One woman who commented on Karim Mohy’s Facebook group gave caution that Mohy’s planned demonstration could be “misconstrued or misrepresented in the media, especially the Egyptian media,” and she disagreed that Karim Mohy was the appropriate leader for such a protest. The woman who called herself Kathy, said it would “be better if this effort were led by a respected Egyptian women’s organization, like ECWR [The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights], to avoid being misperceived as putting foreigners first, or even worse, as anti-Egyptian, anti-Egyptian revolution, or Islamophobic,” she wrote.

According to studies conducted by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Right (ECWR) in 2008, 98 percent of foreign women and 83 percent of Egyptian women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment in Egypt. Meanwhile, 62 percent of Egyptian men confessed to harassing women and 53 percent of Egyptian men faulted women for “bringing it on.”

Female activists in post-Mubarak Egypt say they are concerned that women’s rights are still being overlooked as people focus on several other issues in the “New Egypt.” “Harassment in Egypt has affected all women: Egyptian as well as foreign, young and old, Christian and Muslim, veiled and unveiled,” Nehad Abu Komsan, the chairwoman of the independent ECWR, said. “But for too long this has been a hidden issue.”

“Women’s rights are not about any one individual,” Komsan said. “If we hold protests exclusively for Lara Logan, the government would just say ‘this is one incident; we’re sorry’ and award compensation. Case closed… We want to preserve the interests not just of Lara Logan, but of women in general.”

To date there have been no identifications made of the alleged attackers of Lara Logan and no arrests in the incident have been made. Nehad Abu Komsan says that some of the frustration by women’s rights activists have been removed in light of new government cooperation in combating assaults against women, but she said social attitudes cannot be changed overnight. “Women have been given confidence by this revolution – we now need them to speak out more loudly against harassment,” said Komsan.

Logan began her first day back to work at CBS this Wednesday, and says she is healing. “I am so much stronger now,” she said in the “60 Minutes” interview. Logan hopes that by speaking out she will encourage other women who are victims of sexual assault, especially female journalists, to also report incidents against them. Logan says that her interviews with “60 Minutes” and the New York Times are the only interviews she will be giving regarding the attack and that she is now focused on getting back to work reporting on foreign affairs for CBS News.

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