Untold Gender Stories in Egypt: Interviewing Mona Al Shimi #supportBussy


No one can deny Egypt’s influence on the culture of the Arab world at large. In the past 3 decades we have been witnessing a rapid growth of religious extremism, projection towards more conservatism, expansion of patriarchy and inflation of masculinity. The Arab Spring brought hope for change, with young women and men activists demanding more freedoms and rights. Unfortunately, our Arab Spring has been highjacked and the aftermath was devastating. Yet, young activists won’t surrender to darkness, because whenever and wherever there is injustice, there will always be justice fighters.

A group of young Egyptian want to challenge social taboos and bring up untold gender stories. It is a great initiative that I wholeheartedly support. I had the chance to interview Mona Al Shimi from Bussy and ask her more about this initiative and the crowd funding campaign they are running to support it.

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Fadi: Tell us more about Bussy

quotesMona: Bussy is a performing arts project/movement that documents and gives voice to censored untold stories about gender in different communities in Egypt. Women step on stage to share stories about harassment, rape, gender discrimination, honor killing, forced marriage, Female genital mutilation, motherhood, domestic violence, child abuse, mass sexual assaults and many others, from different communities and cities in Egypt.

Fadi: I bet that there are many untold stories here and there is a big need to hear those stories. Where did the idea behind Bussy come from? 

quotes1Mona: In 2005 Eve Ensler ‘s Vagina Monologues was performed at The American University in Cairo. While audiences felt very moved by the courage and honesty of its content, they longed for something similar coming from Egyptian culture, something they could personally relate to more. A group of students led by Naz Khan a foreign exchange student at the time decided to create Bussy to give a space for an Egyptian Vagina Monologues. Flyers were created round campus titled “share your story” with the option of anonymity given, and in 2006 Bussy gave its first performance at AUC theatre. Today Bussy is no longer a student organization, has expanded beyond AUC, and is no longer limited to women.

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Fadi: I just read a friend of mine on Facebook saying something that rationalises the globalisation of the feminist movement as a response of the globalisation of same oppressive agencies. Having said that, a culture specific flavour always exists. Who is behind Bussy? What’s your team like? 

Mona: We are a small team of independent youth led by manager and director Sondos Shabayek. She has completely dedicated her life to the project.

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Fadi: Why do you think there is a need for women and men to talk about their experiences that are related to gender?

quotes2Mona: From the moment we are born we are taught to invalidate our own feelings, our personal experiences… To deny our inner worlds, and only accept and communicate what has been presented to us as “normal”. By not sharing we each live in the illusion that our personal experience is shameful and that we are alone. As the mass silence continues this message of shame keeps getting reinforced and individuals suffer from extreme self-judgement. It’s very important to break that silence, challenge that message of shame, and give people a space to express and listen to the stories of others. It helps individuals heal and accept themselves, and on a larger scale breaks the social fallacy that’s imprisoning the masses.

Fadi: How do you think theatre as a medium can help brining these stories up?

Mona: Theatre is a very powerful medium in communicating stories. As opposed to other mediums it doesn’t only capture the content, but also the feelings of the storyteller in flesh and blood. Whether the storyteller on stage is telling his/her personal story or someone else’s, it feels real. Both the flesh and blood of the story and the storyteller are brought to life on stage. It has a very direct and intense impact on both audiences and tellers.

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Fadi: You are going to address taboo issues related to gender. Do you think the social climate in Egypt is ready for such stories?

quotes3Mona: We always have to be a few steps ahead from what the social climate is ready for, otherwise no significant change is achieved. However, it is also important to work gradually. Taboos come in layers, and if you follow the order of such layers in your unfolding process, it makes the process smoother. It is important to understand that the core objective is not to challenge the society, but to heal it.

Fadi: I like what you said about healing society, yet I am sure that you are going to face huge challenges in doing so? What kind of challenges are you anticipating?

Mona:  More of the same challenges we are currently facing; financial sustainability, freedom from censorship, and finding safe performance spaces.

Fadi: You started a crowd funding campaign to overcome the financial side of this initiative. I hope you succeed in securing funds needed to keep this initiative alive. Do you have a certain goal or objective that you want to achieve? How many women and men are you going to reach to? How many stories are you aiming to bring up to the surface?

Mona: So far we have gathered stories from over 500 people in 5 cities and held 20 performances. We aim to expand those numbers, explore more cities, more rural areas and reaching out to those who are isolated and unheard. Next year we are aiming to travel to 3 new cities, collect a 100 stories, and hold 4 performances.

On the longer term we also hope to expand to other artistic mediums. We plan to upload are full archive online in order for everyone to have access to the stories, and eventually create a book in English and Arabic with a selected collection. We also hope to upload filmed testimonies online and keep filming more. Despite the power of theatre, these mediums are more accessible to a wider scope of people, and that’s why we need to expand horizontally.

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Fadi: The campaign is nicely done. It is touching to see young men and women demanding a safe place to tell their stories. So far, you have secured $4,414 out of $70,000 goal and you have only 13 days are left. What activities are you planning to meet your goal?

Mona: We’re trying to reach out as widely as possible on social media round the world especially to those passionate about our cause.

We’re also selling small symbolic items, holding garage sales, and collecting contributions in different events and gatherings round Cairo.

And we’re still brainstorming daily to find more creative ideas to support our campaign. We’re really trying our best!

Fadi: I hope the readers of this blog help in making this campaign successful. Who are your current supporters?

quotes4Mona: Though our circle of support is small, we are grateful for their loyalty without which we would not have been here today.

Famous Egyptian Actor Khaled Abu El Naga has been a major support since 2010, when he co-produced Bussy videos with famous Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy. Khaled continues lobbying for Bussy till now.

The Greek Campus, and Goethe institute have kindly shared rehearsal and performance spaces in the past and continue to support our cause.

We have also previously received financial support from the British council, the Swiss Embassy in Egypt, Frida, and Pioneers of Egypt.

Fadi: Thank you Mona. That is a noble cause what you are after. I hope to see Bussy successful and copies/expanded to come other countries in the Arab world.

Readers, if you enjoyed this blog and feel passionate about sexual and body rights, then go ahead and support Bussy here. Let’s help them succeed.

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*Measurments* of freedom of expression


It never seize to amaze me how we always manage to busy ourselves in discussing the ‘measurments’ of freadom of speech whenever the issue is brought. We are smart-asses, aren’t we? When there are measurments, then we can always fit our freedom of speech to our own needs.

On the last day of the follow up meeting of the YLVP in Alexandria, we had a press conference at the Swedish Institute to communicate what we have been doing to the Egyptian press. After introducing ourselves and giving a brief information about the YLVP program, the Swedish Ambassador Tommy opened the door for questions.

Most of the questions were friendly. They asked about the program, our projects and the netwrok. One journalist, whom according to Wael Abbas, works for the governments’ official newspaper asked: Did you have any discussion about the measurments of freedom of speech in your program? because as we all know, you have picked Wael Abbas, who is an Egypatian blogger that is known of his dirty language.

Wael answered him in a firm angry tone: When you live under a dictator regime, you don’t discuss freedom measurments, you discuss freedom itself.

In truth, Wael does use a dirty language in his posts. He usually curse and swear public officials and even Hossni Mobarak himself. He rationalize it of using the common language that most of us use in our daily interactions in the streets – which is very true -. While I may not use such language in my writings, I respect Wael’s choices of practicing his expression freedoms.

I was impressed by the level of freedom of expression allowed for the Egyptian press. This is one thing that bloggers managed to snatch and help mainstream media to fill. They really pushed up their freedoms. One taxi driver rationalized it that the regime had to allow this in order to avoid a people’s burst because of the great pressure they face on a daily basis.

In Jordan, we have been talking about *responsible* freedom of expression for a long time now. Shouldn’t we just drop all of those vocabularies and focus on the freedom of expression itself?

Misr ba2at asya awi 3ala ahlaha


OMG! I really miss blogging! I have been in Egypt the past week for a follow up meeting for the young leaders visitors programme with the Swedish Institute. We stayed in Alexandria for the first 4 days of the meeting and then we went to cairo for free two days. In Alexandria I couldn’t help my self but to compare the image I had in my mind of the city from the famous Arabic musical film ‘Abi Fauk al shajara’ (Dad on the tree) to its current state.

I stayed at Cecil hotel, which lies next to the park where Abed Al Haleem ran at the beginning of the film to catch up with his girl friend, both of them running to the beach, wearing only their swim suits, singing and dancing with their friends to celebrate the coming of the summer vacation.

That was around 40 years ago, the repeated song and beautiful scenary from the film got shattered in my mind while walking down the streets of Alexandria, instead a protective state of mind occupied me while roaming the streets of Alexandria with my female friends. Poverty and sexual frustration prevailed. The beautiful light spirit of the Egyptians sounded like a myth for me looking at the grumpy face of men in the streets. Alexandria’s women all covered up with heavy clothes and long veil that covers the area down to their shoulders. Dull colors of clothes and hardship of movement, a faded smile, and worrisome. An image of a sobbing woman at the stairs of Alexandria’s court comes up in my mind. Another image of us concerned for our friend Maha who felt like crossing the street and had a cigarette on the beach by herself while we were having lunch and watching her from the window of the hotel restaurant so that to be able to run and protect her if anyone sexually harrassed her. In Alexandria these days, such stand would be translated as a provocative act from her part.

‘Alexandria used to be a beautiful city’, the taxi driver told me. He said that 40% of its residents used to be foreigners before the revolution. The revolution leaders changed everything, including the names of the streets. Older people in the city know how beautiful Alexandria has been.

Street sexual harassement is a big issue in Egypt. Most women are veiled these days and they still don’t feel safe walking in the streets alone. Wael Abbas, a ylvp participant and a famous Egyptian blogger, was from the very first people talking about the issue and helping in gaining the attention of formal media outlets to talk about it.

Poverty and sexual frustration are not the only problems Egyptians seem to suffer from. Officals and policemen corruption seem to be also a major concern. I have witnessed myself a taxi driver bribing a policeman so that he won’t withdraw his driving licence. Wael has also brought the attention of people in Egypt and the world to the torture happening in Egyptian jails through several videos he posted on his blog. 3 policemen was sentenced to 3 months in prison as a result. It is a terrible thing when the people who suppose to help you are the same people who abuses you and violate your rights. Wael says ‘People in Egypt today fear policemen more than they fear theives’!

He himself suffered from such corruption two days ago when his policeman neighbout attacked him in his own house for a stupid internet problem and hit him and his mother. He lost a teeth and had several bruises. He filed a complaint to the police department. Let’s hope he gets some justice.

While ‘Misr ba2at asya awi 3ala ahlaha’ (Egypt became so hard on its people) Hind Sabri said it in Yacoobian building film, Egyptians still say ‘Misr om el donia’ (Egypt is the mother of the world) – a common Egyptian phrase -. As hard as life seem to be for the Egyptians, Cairo never sleeps, and despite all the hectic and traffic, people spend their nights in coffe shops chatting and smoking shisha.

Will Misr be easier on its people? Will a brighter future emerge for those people? I certainly have much hope in my young Egyptian friends. Misr needs change, a major one….