Day 1/16 of Activism Against Gender Violence: Conversation with Samira: A Story of Defiance
WLUML-ICO team recently had the opportunity to meet with Samira Ibrahim, a brave young Egyptian activist. Our conversation with Samira was inspirational. She opened up about her background - where it all began - and about her exciting current work. Samira also spoke to us about the many forms of state violence that she has faced along the way.
“I was arrested several times, slapped around and sent home,” she told us wryly. Samira has stood witness to repression, brutality, tumult and transition, but through it all she has retained a winning sense of humour and humility.
Arrested at 15
Samira was fifteen years old when she was first arrested. She wrote a composition at school criticizing state policies towards Palestine. A legal case was brought against her, despite her young age. Ever since that point, Samira has been viewed as a threat to the police state.
Samira was inspired by her parents’ activism. In particular, her father seems to be a great inspiration. She remembers, “My dad used to tell me that we have a gang in the government”. Samira’s father was a member of Jama’aa Islamiya and her mother was in the Muslim Brotherhood. They have always stood in opposition to the ruling elite.
As a youth, on her way back from school, Samira would break the lamps in the street so that she could come back when it’s dark to post on them flyers that read, “A gang is governing Egypt”. Officials installed a local check point so as to be able to detain the culprit, only to find that behind this subversive act was just a teenage girl. “The officer who arrested me couldn’t believe that it was me who has been doing this,” Samira told us.
Because I argue
“I used to be in the Muslim Brotherhood but I left a long time ago, because I used to argue.” This is how Samira began to tell us about her experience with the Brotherhood. She was raised in a conservative family, and growing up her closed social circle was primarily made up of members of the Brotherhood. However, unlike others, Samira used to argue with her Sheikh. This is why she was seen as a threat. Her independence, defiance and stubbornness didn’t only threaten Mubarak’s police state but also the Sheikhs! “I encouraged the whole class to argue, this is why they asked me to leave the class,” she added.
The constitution and workers’ rights
Samira’s activism before the Egyptian revolution revolved around the Constitution and workers’ rights. She fought against the extreme and wide-ranging powers that Mubarak had given himself via the Egyptian constitution and his plans to groom his son to ‘inherit’ presidency after him. In 2008 she joined the workers’ strike. The strike started in Upper Egypt that year in an aluminium factory. Since then she has worked with the workers and travelled with them to ‘Mahlla’, a large agricultural and industrial city known for its dominant textile industry. Her participation in these protests and strikes led to her arrest again.
Active in the political protests in Tahrir Square, Samira was arrested on January 26, 2011, and released two days later on the 28th of January. She participated in a sit-in until she was again arrested on the 9th of March 2011 when army tanks and soldiers entered the Square and forcibly dispersed protestors. Samira was transferred to a military prison along with other detainees, where she was electrocuted several times. She was then forced to subject to a ‘virginity test’.
Samira took the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to court for their acts of torture and cruel and inhuman treatment. Although a military court this March acquitted the military doctor who performed the so-called ‘virginity test’, she believes her bravery in speaking out has made a major impact. There is now a court order in effect that bans the use of ‘virginity tests’ on all prisoners. Ever moving forward, Samira is now taking her complaint to the African Commission, which is expected to issue recommendations against this practice. Her courage in holding the military to account for their brutality has been an inspiration to many men and women in Egypt.
Samira’s current activism
A passionate activist, Samira is on the move. She works non-stop to improve the status of her society. She told us that she feels the pain of her people and is doing her utmost to help in whatever way she can. Today, Samira is spearheading two bold initiatives. The first, ‘Know Your Rights’, works in Upper Egypt to address illiteracy, reach out to street children and raise awareness. Her second initiative is called ‘Let’s sign the International Criminal Court treaty” as she believes that there are many current and ex-officials who should be sent to the ICC to be held accountable for their wrong-doings.
What lies in the future of this woman of conviction, determination and integrity? Samira plans to run as a candidate for the next round of Egyptian parliamentary elections.
When asked what advice she would give young Egyptian women who want to join the struggle for social justice and to participate in politics in a traditional patriarchal society her response was “Go for it! Nothing is impossible even if it seems like it at first .As with any choice we make there is a price to be paid no doubt. I paid the price with my reputation, but that is alright because it is done in the name of a greater cause.”