Egyptian superhero breaks taboo on sexual violence
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Egyptian women have a new ally in their fight against sexual harassment – a superhero taking on the country's sexual predators. FRANCE 24 talked to the creator of “Supermakh”, a comic character inspired by Superman.
Supermakh -- or, Superman with an Egyptian twist. Dressed in white underwear and a floral motif cape, the comic superhero is fighting against Egypt's rampant sexual harassment of women.
“I put a bit of myself in the character of Supermakh, and also a bit of the average Egyptian who would like to do something but is not always able to help out. It’s a superhero who succeeds, but not every time…” Makhlouf, the creator of Supermakh, told FRANCE 24.
After a brief appearance in the opposition newspaper El Doustour in 2007, the Cairo superhero reappeared on the cover of Tok Tok, the first Egyptian zine launched in the tumultuous pre-revolutionary days of January 2011.
In that story, Supermakh helps a young woman who tries to avoid the pressing demands of a strange Santa Claus.
“The story was popular, especially with girls,” said Makhouf.
In a country plagued by sexual harassment, most female readers probably identified themselves with the character of the girl in the comics.
According to a report from the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights (ECWR), 83% of women have already been sexually harassed in Egypt – with no-one to save them.
Fighting sexual predators
Sexual harassment against Egyptian women came under the media spotlight after the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Both local and international media then reported harrowing sexual attacks in and around Cairo’s Tahrir square, with mobs of predators frantically groping women, and sometimes worse.
The spike in sexual violence against female protesters led to several grassroots initiatives, such as “Tahrir Bodyguards”.
The group sends volunteers with helmets and vests to patrol and halt attacks on women during mass protests in Tahrir square.
Activists for the “Harassmap” campaign have set up a system to connect sexually harassed women through mobile phones or social media. Their website “harassmap.org” displays an interactive map reporting sexual violence against women across Cairo.
Makhlouf doesn’t claim to be a superhero himself: he doesn’t go down in the streets to confront hordes of sexual predators.
“I try to support women in my own way, with my drawings. Women must remain free. I hope that [what I’m doing] is a little bit helpful,” Makhlouf told FRANCE24.
Superhero vs super taboo
Makhlouf’s virtual superhero has already made a difference in the real world by helping to publicise the ordeal many Egyptian women face daily.
Drawing on Supermakh’s popularity, Tok Tok zine published a special issue last year addressing sexual violence against women.
Egyptian activists insist that breaking the silence and using words like “harassment” instead of “hitting on” when talking about sexual violence is the first step to force apathetic authorities to confront the problem.
Egypt’s police have also recently come under attack for not cracking down on sexual crimes: according to a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) survey released in 2010, 96.7% of women did not even bother to report sexual harassment to the police because they were convinced authorities would do nothing to help them.
Supermakh is due to reappear in Tok Tok’s April 2013 issue, which will deal with the story of a woman politician in Cairo: another taboo Egypt’s new superhero is set to break.
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