Those rooms had life

Sameer Rahim

  • The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al-Aswany, translated by Humphrey Davies
    Fourth Estate, 255 pp, £14.99, February 2007, ISBN 978 0 00 724361 7

Last October, on the evening of Eid-ul-Fitr, hundreds of men gathered outside a cinema in downtown Cairo. When they discovered the film was sold out, they began ripping down posters and wrecking the box office. Then they turned their attention to women on the street. They shouted ‘Saudi! Saudi!’ at one woman and pulled off her black veil. Other women had their clothes and underwear ripped off; at least one was forced against a wall and raped. The attacks lasted five hours. The Egyptian state security service was only five minutes from the scene, but the authorities – who usually flood the streets with police during political demonstrations – did nothing (later, the police claimed that they hadn’t received any complaints of abuse). It was left to shopkeepers and taxi drivers to pull women to safety. When someone asked a policeman to intervene, he was told: ‘What do you want us to do? It’s Eid. Happy Eid to you too!’

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