Anyone who has been to Cairo will agree that the city is loud…very loud. Car horns, construction work, street parties that seem to go on for days. But on our last night, after two weeks crisscrossing the city to meet some amazing young girls for the 10x10 film, the urban soundtrack that we had gotten used to, even come to enjoy, was punctuated by the disturbing staccato of gun shots, sirens, and more gun shots.
The next morning, we awoke to news that the death toll from the clashes between Coptic Christian demonstrators, Muslims, and security forces was 26 and some 300 were thought to be wounded. It turned out to be the bloodiest day in the country since Mubarak was ousted in February.
Almost every day we were in Cairo we drove by some sort of demonstration. Mostly peaceful, the gatherings are one of the wonderful, tangible results from the revolution. Every Egyptian feels they have a stake in the future of their country and they are now no longer afraid to shout about it from the rooftops, or more often across the expanse of Tahrir square.
However in the tragic aftermath of the October 10th demonstrations and violence, it’s clear that Cairenes are paying a price for this newfound freedom. “The streets are chaos” and “lawlessness; no police control” are refrains that we heard countless times throughout our stay. House robberies, car-jackings, and general violence has risen since the fall of Mubarak’s regime. We were told that everyone is at risk, but predictably the most vulnerable in the society are young girls. The same girls that are at the heart of 10x10. The same girls that we believe, if given a chance, can change the world.
There is no doubt that sexual harassment has long been a problem on the streets of Cairo, but all of the women and girls we met agreed without hesitation that since the revolution, violent advances and rape are much more common. In fact the youth director for UN Women in Egypt told us that the high risk of gender-based violence in certain parts of the city has forced some girls to drop out of school because they are too afraid to walk down their own streets in broad daylight.
Despite the heartbreaking reality of gender-based violence that many young women throughout the country face, we discovered that Egyptian girls are beyond tough and are extremely tenacious. We were sobered when an 11-year-old recent rape victim, who has never been to school, told us that she now wears a shard of glass tied to her leg for protection and that the only thing she wants in life is to graduate from school so that she can be a “champion and protect her family.”