Sexual Harassment at the American University in Cairo

Sexual Harassment in Cairo

Living in Cairo can be wonderfully exciting and unbelievably magical. Then there are those incredibly unfortunate days when, as a woman, you want to curl up inside of your home and never leave due to the intolerable behavior that the male Egyptian society often exudes. During my last semester at the American University in Cairo (AUC)  I experienced sexual harassment in the cafeteria, just before I attempted to go to the library to work on my master’s thesis. 

The day was scorching hot and I went to get water from a cooler. I was sliding the cooler door open when I  heard the “normal” kissing and sucking sounds, that every woman regardless of race, size or clothing style hears constantly on the streets, coming from the food service workers behind me. I initially ignored the sound, not wanting to make a scene or get myself all riled up before studying. However, I heard the threatening, haunting noise again as I bent down to pick up a bottle. I turned around and saw three men staring with wide eyes, and one of them had come around the food counter and was pursing his lips at me. I thought to myself,

God, is this seriously happening? Do you think I’m going to go over there and kiss you, you disgusting excuse for a man?

I couldn’t keep in my anger and embarrassment any more. I exploded.

I marched over to what looked to be the manager and explained to him what happened, by stating that I shouldn’t have to deal with this sort of harassment on campus. The man wouldn’t make eye contact with me and started laughing, looking down at his leathered hands while he counted money. Further ridiculed, I quickly become even more upset and told him,

Do you honestly think I like being harassed on campus? Do you think it’s okay for me to hear these noises as I am trying to eat and learn?

Again, the manager said nothing, so I demanded to see the manager above him. Thankfully an extremely kind student, Hossam, came to my aid while I was waiting, as my angry tears boiled over. Hossam helped me translate what happened and his fury grew as he realized I wasn’t being taken seriously. Numerous students began to surround us, there was yelling and chaos, and I felt so small and insignificant as the service workers and the first manager began to deny everything that happened.

The incident escalated until the AUC managers started lying about their names, so I couldn’t properly record them for the sexual harassment file Hossam suggested I document. Some witnesses tried to walk away hoping I wouldn’t talk to them, the food service workers disappeared so I couldn’t “blame” one of them (Hossam made sure these men were all accounted for later), and other manager-types asked if I had any proof to validate my statements. Perhaps the most shocking moment of all was when a male student told me,

Tolerate the harassment because someone could lose his job because of your issues. Meshy (Okay)? Are you sure that he harassed you? Maybe he was just calling you over? Khalas (Enough).

I looked him in the eyes, with Hossam by my side, and said, “To hell with that”.

Sexual Harassment in Egypt

The AUC is supposed to be a place where examples are set, where “model citizens” are molded, and where men aren’t suppose to act with vulgar animalistic manners. Unfortunately, AUC was not the safe haven I hoped for and it certainly was not exempt from the sexual harassment epidemic in Egypt.

Similar to many universities in the Western world where female students and staff members experience rape, sexual assault and harassment (i.e. Emma Sulkowicz’s case at Columbia University and the case of “Emily Doe” at Stanford University), the AUC still has a very long way to go before it can say it has rid itself of rape culture and sexual violence against women.

I filed a sexual harassment report, with the support from close friends and students who pushed me to believe that I was right and sexual harassment is wrong.

Always.

Whitney Buchanan

Whitney Buchanan

Middle East Collective Founder

Whitney Buchanan is an American analyst on Gender Issues and MENA Affairs, currently based between Cairo and Berlin. She is also the founder of the Middle East Collective.

8 Comments
  1. Hey Whitney, I’m a student at the AUC and I’m so glad that you took a stand and I want you to know I support you fully in this issue. I wanted to thank you for this article because I was unaware that this sort of behavior took place on campus at all. I guess I, as well also other men assume that people will behave because we witnessed an incident that occurred several semesters ago that involved a different vendor and we saw all hell break loose against food vendors and workers alike. I had supposed this brought an end to this behavior but I now see that us male students must recognize that it is our responsibility to participate in the freedom and safety we wish to have instead of expecting it to be offered by others.

  2. It’s one thing to be harassed by the workers there, who come from backgrounds where that is more widespread and it doesn’t get condemned but it’s also more disappointing to have to go through sexual harassment from fellow male students- who I naively held a higher expectation for considering the level and type of education they’re receiving and have paid so much for.

  3. Reading this makes me so angry. I’m sorry you had to go through this and I hope you never experience something like that again. But unfortunately, AUC still has a very long way to go as you said, so if by any chance this ever happens again, take pictures,..or better yet, videos! That way it doesn’t matter if they run away after or give you fake names. I’m glad that you took a stand and good luck on your thesis!

    1. Sara, thank you very much for taking the time to read my article and comment. All of the kind support from current students and alumni reminds me of why I wanted to go to AUC in the first place! I didn’t even think to take a video or photo, but I’ll try to remember your good advice the next time something like that occurs.

      Thanks so much again and please let me know if you might be interested in contributing to the MEC in any way!

      Very best wishes,
      Whitney

  4. Hello Whitney,
    I’m an AUC graduate. What you have done is less than what you should have done. While reading it, I expected that you would walk over to him and slap him on the face.

    Well, this is not the first sexual harassment story at AUC. We had an incident with the CINNABON workers as well. And I remember the students that saw it literally destroyed the store. The report will be taken seriously. Keep us updated please.

    1. Dear Michael,

      Thank you so much for reading this post and for standing in solidarity with me, it truly means a lot to have so many AUCians on my side. I honestly did want to lash out, but I tried to stay as calm as possible because I felt alone in that moment and didn’t want things to escalate.

      I remember reading a little bit about the Cinnabon workers, but I had no idea the students stood up for the victim in such a way. Bravo! Do you have a link or report of that incident? I would really like to read it and share it on our social media channels. Thanks so much again and if you’re interested in submitting a scholarly article or personal narrative to the MEC, please feel free to get in touch with me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*