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Nora Younis is a human rights activist, journalist and blogger who is now working as the website managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm Daily Independent, one of the best known newspapers in Egypt.

As a human rights activist, Ms. Younis won the Human Rights First (HRF) thirtieth anniversary award in 2008 for her work using new media tools to expose human rights violations and police brutality.

When she started blogging in 2005 she focused on addressing the information vacuum on protest movements in Egypt. Before Twitter came into being, she was continually sending mass text messages to human rights activists, political groups, and journalists, informing them of rallies, arrests, state violence and police brutality.

After Twitter became established among Egyptians, she moved into visual documentation. Most recognized is her video of the textile workers’ strike in Mahalla in September 2007 that soon grew into a nationwide movement known as the April 6th strike. One of her most famous blog posts includes her testimonial about the brutal police raid on a Sudanese refugee protest camp in Cairo in 2005 where at least 27 men, women and children were killed. Her testimonial was translated by fellow bloggers and activists across the world into more than seven languages. It was used in law suits and human rights reports condemning the Egyptian government.

During the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Ms. Younis played a major role in documenting and reporting events. Using improvised communications methods, she filmed and disseminated to global audiences the demonstrations and crackdowns in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Before she took up her position as website managing editor of Al-Masry Al-Youm Daily Independent, Ms. Younis covered the Middle East for The Washington Post (2008) and for other international newspapers.

Twitter: @NoraYounis 

My friends were sexually assaulted. The tore their clothes. They played with their bodies. They beat them. They said bad words to them. They were humiliated. And all was under the supervision of the police. But because I spit on the general, because I said bad-- I was beaten, and I crawled out, it's-- this actually saved me. It was horrible because they pushed foreign correspondents. They pushed them on their face on the ground, and then they groped their bodies. It was terrible. It was a terrible day. And it was announced all over the world.

But what was important in my pictures were the faces of two security generals who supervised the process. And I took them all to the general prosecutor, and I filed a complaint, again, as—[President Hosni] Mubarak being the supreme head of the police, and against el-Adly [Habib El- Adly served as Interior Minister under Mubarak and was later sentenced to life imprisonment for corruption and conspiring to kill protesters.] being the head of the ministry-- the minister of interior. And after one year the files were closed, the cases were closed, and they said they cannot identify the perpetrators.

And to me, this was even more shocking. I mean you cannot identify a police general in uniform who was on duty in this street at this moment, in this day? So there was a call for a meeting. And it was a call for meeting for all the women who were-- who witnessed this day. We got together and we decided to form a women's group called The Street is Ours. What we could make up out of what happened, what we could understand, is that they wanted to deprive women of their political participation.

They wanted to take women out of the public space. And we wanted to say, "No, we are not going home. We are not going to stay home. We are going to continue to be in the street." And that was it. We did lot of demonstrations after, women-only demonstrations, conferences. We documented all the testimonials. So there was a lot of work to build on it afterwards. The Egyptian street was not completely safe for women since I was a little girl. It was never completely safe for women. But from this day in 2005, forward, it became completely crazy. It was not like this before.

When I was in school, when I went to university, there was like flirtations, or you would hear a couple of words. But it would be rarely that a man would touch a woman in the street. It was very rare. But after what happened in this day, all the press, all the televisions, or the newspapers, were talking about sexual harassment, sexual molestation. I think the word itself was repeated in the media so much, so much that it was never said like this before. It was like all the time, all the time, all the time. And what happened afterwards, nobody was punished.

I mean so all the Egyptian street was talking about sexual harassment, describing sexual harassment, putting pictures of victimized women, like, who were sexually harassed. And nobody was punished. No legislation was put forward at this point. And the ones accused of the sexual harassment were the state. The state supported the sexual harassment. With no punishment, I believe that this encouraged a lot of young, poor, hopeless, future-less men to go on and do the same. I mean if my government, if my police is supervising this, if it's okay by the government, why don't I get my share? I'm living a miserable life, as well.

So I strongly believe that what the Mubarak regime did that day is responsible for the state of sexual harassment we have in Egypt now. I never called myself a feminist. Because I think I just-- what happened then was horrible. And when we said the group is called The Street is Ours and it was a women's group, it was because the attack was aggressing women. But I knew that men were featuring so much bigger abuse inside the detention places. I mean we knew that men were sexually assaulted in prisons, in detention camps, in police stations. So I mean it was shocking that it was women. But I have to remind myself that everyone who plays politics gets his share from this regime. So I mean not for a certain reason, but I wouldn't just call myself a feminist. 

With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.

The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.

From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.

For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.

Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.

In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.

In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.


More on this theme from Nora Younis

Nora Younis: The Street is Ours Nora organizes to fight sexual harassment in 2005. Nora Younis: Human Rights Nora discusses her passion for human rights.

Other videos from Nora Younis

Nora Younis: Background Nora discusses her background. More +