Egyptian rapper speaks for women’s rights

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Egyptian rapper Myam Mahmoud poses for a portrait in downtown Cairo. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Egyptian rapper Myam Mahmoud poses for a portrait in downtown Cairo. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

One of the biggest problems for woman in Egypt is sexual harassment. A U.N. report released in April said the issue had reached “unprecedented levels,” with 99.3 percent of women in the country reporting that they have been subjected to sexual harassment.

“There is no single female in Egypt that has not been harassed, regardless of her looks,” Mahmoud said. “As soon as a girl is born in Egypt, she is repressed with many pressures.”

Part of the problem, in Mahmoud’s eyes, is that women don’t speak out against harassment.

“I wish we would not be silent about our problems,” she said. “We have to snatch our freedoms, nobody will just offer them.”

Her lyrics take the issue head on.

“Some of us see the answer is to cover up, and if the girl is hidden she will not be assaulted,” she raps in one song. “My body is only mine.”

Initiatives to counter the problem have increased in the past year in Egypt, where volunteer groups have started protecting women at street protests. On the other side of the debate are conservative religious clerics who blame women, saying they invite harassment and sexual abuse by mixing with men.

The issue is, in part at least, linked to the broader expectations that many men in religiously conservative Egypt have about women and their roles in society. Mahmoud, with her quiet self-confidence and animated performances in a genre that has gained more acceptance among younger Egyptians in recent years, has challenged those expectations.

She said she received a flood of messages after her performance on TV accusing her of misrepresenting Islam with her look — read veil — and attitude. But she dismissed the criticism, saying “religion has never been a constraint — we put the curbs on.””The veil was never a problem for me because it is my personal choice,” she said. “If I’m going to add anything new to my life it has to go with my initial choices.”

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