If you’re a male reading this, you’re probably going to hate me for making the following statement.
As a girl living in Egypt, I pretty much get away with murder. You know it, I know it, every policeman on the street knows it. It can’t be a coincidence that in all my years of driving, I’ve had my license revoked just once, despite driving like, as my father puts it, “a Microbus driver on crack.”
I also think it may be related to the fact that I have boobs, while policemen don’t (as far as I know), which gives me an unfair advantage in many situations.
Not that the boobs need to be shown off to get my way: it’s enough to smile, play with the hair, act shocked that the sign you’re parked under actually means No Parking, while showing remorse and intent to never break a red light again. A fiver doesn’t hurt either.
And since most Egyptian men believe that women are terrible drivers, I’ve decided to exploit that stereotype: see, the fact that I’m a woman and my car license plate is Alexandrian means that I can pull the idiot woman driver/lost card, and policemen will just roll their eyes and let me go every single time.
I’m driving on the Moneeb Bridge towards Maadi at night while talking on the phone. I see the police check point coming up and a Zabet flagging me down. I stop, wind down my window, and smile sweetly while still clutching my phone to my ear.
“Ya madam,” he starts, “You do know that you can’t talk on the phone while driving? You saw me from far away, you knew I was going to stop you, couldn’t you at least have hidden your phone from me?”
“I’m so sorry ya hadret el Zabet,” I squeaked while still, get this, holding onto my phone. “I’m lost and trying to get to Maadi, so I was calling my friend for directions. I’m not from here; I’m from Alexandria, just look at my license plates, ah wallahi.”
“Where in Alexandria are you from?”
I tried not to roll my eyes (Cairenes think that Alexandria has districts like Imbaba and Heliopolis, when we’re pretty much the size of a sardine box with a total of three main streets), and I say, “From Mahatet El Raml, hadretak.”
Zabet’s face changes completely.
“You’re from Mahetet El-Raml? I’m from Roushdy! What a coincidence! That practically makes us neighbors! Ahlan Wasahlan Ahlan! Ok, go ahead take first right then go straight-”
I once got stopped at the Maadi entrance checkpoint at 2AM. Policeman made the mistake of letting the car in front of me pass and stopping me instead.
“Why did you stop me and not the car in the front of me?” I whined, “Is it because I’m a girl? It’s not correct of you to stop a young woman alone in her car at such a late hour, haram 3aleek, this is not kind; would you want this to happen to your sister or your mother? Would you?”
Policeman rolled eyes, let me through.
“I’m sorry, officer, I had no idea this was an illegal U-turn. Wait, there’s a sign saying so? I don’t know how to read signs! Is this Zamalek? It’s not? It’s Heliopolis? How do I get to Zamalek please?”
Radar checkpoint on the Cairo-Alex Desert Road.
“Ya madam, you were speeding.”
“Really? I was?” Pout.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, madam, I am the radar.”
“Oh dear, was it very bad?”
Policeman falters slightly.
“No it wasn’t that bad, it was 105. Speed limit is 100.”
“Oh dear, and I was so sure I was driving at 100.”
“Well you weren’t.”
Smile. “I’m so sorry; I won’t ever speed again. Ha’ak 3aleya.”
Policeman sighs and gives up.
“Fine, just be careful next time.”
And it’s not just policemen. I charmed my way through my driver’s license exam (even though I drove over my examining officer’s foot twice-but that’s another story), into two jobs that I was completely unqualified for (including one where I couldn’t even speak the language), and I have never had my luggage checked at the Cairo Airport Customs- well, except for one time where the bag was bursting with new clothes but I’d left a pile of dirty underwear on top, which freaked the officer out and he quickly rushed me through. Interestingly enough, my bags have never been checked since.)
Yet, while I enjoy exploiting my feminine wiles to escape the occasional parking ticket, I do it with a clear conscience because I know that I live in a country where my rights as a woman are not necessarily respected or protected.
Rising poverty and unemployment rates are leading to higher crime levels all around Egypt, and violence against women seems to be becoming more frequent and more brutal. Every day I read about women being kidnapped off public transportation, gang-raped in broad day light, thrown off balconies, beaten to death, burnt with gasoline, hanged, hacked into pieces.
In last July alone, 500 cases of sexual molestation, 8 cases of rape and 19 murders were reported.
Sexual harassment itself seems to be a rite of passage for every woman on the streets of Egypt: a recent study found that 83 percent of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed or assaulted at some point in their lives.
It’s not much safer at home: a separate study found that 61.3% of Egyptian men admit to beating their wives.
Justice rarely seems to be served in a judicial system that recognizes honor killings and gives minimal sentences to murderers and rapists: a man and his son in Beheira were given one year in jail last September for murdering the man’s 16-year old daughter, who had allegedly disgraced her family with her bad reputation. The men got off easy because the judge agreed with their defense that the 16-year-old’s ‘bad reputation’ justified her murder.
So yeah, I may get away with a lot of things, but unfortunately all too often, men actually get away with murder here.