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Just What A Virgin Nation Needs

Photo by Al Jazeera English

Guest Post by Aggie Ebrahimi

Unless you’ve been living under the influence of Glee, you’ve likely heard the allegations that the Egyptian military has been torturing arrested, female activists from Tahrir Square with electric shocks, strip searches, and virginity tests. Amnesty International has spearheaded a major petition campaign to put pressure on Secretary of State Clinton to have her put pressure on Egyptian authorities to end these inhumane actions.

The thinking behind the virginity tests is as follows: Women take to the streets in mass number to call for revolution. Old system notices (and fears) women’s power. Old system falls, but some pieces remain, as do these strong women. These strong women are most certainly a threat, the Old System thinks. The Old System needs to incapacitate them. To do so, they will arrest prominent members and perform virginity tests. Should the women fail, the state can label and prosecute them as “prostitutes,” thereby crippling their political participation.

Plain and simple.

But it’s really not so simple. For a variety of reasons. The most prominent of which, in my eyes, is that we really don’t have any idea what’s happening in Egypt, whether these allegations are true or not, how much has really changed, who is in power, why Mubarak left. While all of these questions have simple answers that could fit in the columns of the Times, they also have quite complex answers that won’t become clear for many, many years.

Nonetheless, whether or not these virginity tests happened as Amnesty describes them, the fact that this story is even circulating shows that things like this could happen, that virginity can readily be used as a means through which the (male-dominated) state controls women’s bodies. Though the majority of women in Egypt were not physically detained and tortured by the state, in a story like this, we as women are all controlled. That is, we are reminded of the intractable grip of this meaningless construct squeezing our bodies, squeezing most stringently, of course, in those moments when we start to actualize our own awesome power.

As an Iranian whose family lived through a devastating and disappointing revolution, I’ve pored over the same question ever since the Tunisia n people rose up against Ben Ali. And now, with the emergence of this story which implicates the military as yet another oppressive force – the same military that protesters hailed for laying down their arms in support of the movement – I again ask myself: Well, just how revolutionary are these revolutions?