"The Look," But Different

Cairo, Egypt

My Egyptian friend Mohannad’s been squiring me around Cairo for the last couple of weeks, and there’s been a striking difference in my experience of the city. I still draw as much attention as I usually do, but it’s a very different kind of attention.

When I walk alone or with other girls, we get stared at by everyone, cat-called, lots of “Welcome to Egypt!” and Borat-esque “Verrry niiice!”, occasional groping, and sometimes even more explicit invitations. My favorite is the plaintive whine, “Why won’t you answer me…?” which has got to be the stupidest-ever follow-up to a terrible pick-up line! (For a few precious weeks during and immediately after the revolution, we encountered almost none of that, but it was too good a utopia to last!)

In the last few days, walking around with Mohannad, I’ve really clued in to the differences between then and now. At first, it seemed like the harassment was gone entirely, but eventually I noticed that we were receiving just as much attention. Only this time, it wasn’t just baldly appraising looks and frustrated glares at me, but also at Mohannad. What’s he done to get a foreign girl like that to walk around with him? they seem to be thinking.

Back at the beginning of the year, I remember Heather and Kirsten talking about this same phenomenon, when they were seen out with their Arab husbands. If the Egyptian Revolution often felt like Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s civil rights movement, Cairo sometimes feels like MLK Jr.’s South, where interracial relationships are rare, and draw a lot of uncomfortable attention.

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