Egypt’s rise in honor killings sparks regional debate

CAIRO and AMMAN: Her eyes begin to tear up even before any words are released from her lips. As she puts down her tea onto the handmade wooden table, the marks where other glasses had sat shows the wear the corner has weathered. Sarah is a 23-year-old university graduate from Aswan. She is Christian. But the story she told earlier this year at a Cairo flat is one that is becoming more and more common across Egypt’s rural areas. Honor killings affect all women, she says, her passable English a sign of her education.

“I was at university here in Cairo when my mother called me last summer,” she begins, wiping the water that had begun to drip from her eyes. She had not spoken publicly about the murder of her cousin, but in late February, the killing of two women near Alexandria had changed her feeling about talking about her own family’s situation.

“My mom told me that my cousin, who I had grown up with and had played with all the time had been killed,” she continues. According to Sarah, her mother did not reveal how she died, but after a few days, it became apparent that what had happened was that her cousin’s own brother had stabbed his sister to death in an “honor killing.”

“It was clear what happened because a few months earlier, my cousin had gotten involved with a Muslim guy in the city and her family didn’t like that. There were rumors and all that. I didn’t think much of it because our family is educated and well-off, but then when I heard the news, it became clear,” Sarah adds.

Her cousin, 22, had been murdered by her own brother after rumors surfaced in the area that she was having illicit relations with her boyfriend, a Muslim. Sarah said that she was remains sad and angry. “I will not go back to my family. It is very scary for young women in this country because even rumors can get us killed,” she added.

Her story, while not uncommon in Egypt in recent years, with reports of more and more women being killed by their family members in “honor” crimes, has finally come to light, but after two other women were killed near Egypt’s second city of Alexandria in late February, Sarah believes more energy and discussion must be made on the subject for it to end.

“We are a closed society and we don’t like to talk about these things, but if we do not, then it will continue, just like what happened to the two girls in Alexandria,” she said.

The first murder happened in Ameriya village, where a mechanic killed his sister after hearing rumors about her. The second killing by an unemployed man in Borg al-Arab, who killed his married sister for allegedly fleeing her home with another man.

Egyptian newspaper al-Badeel reported that the first woman, 24, was stabbed to death by her brother in the family’s home after he heard rumors about her behavior. The dead woman’s mother, who witnessed the killing, confessed to the police of her son’s crime, saying he committed it in their house.

The police became involved after the young woman was taken a hospital, which reported the murder to the authorities.

The man was captured and confessed to killing his sister, justifying it by commenting on “her bad morals.”

The second woman, 22, was found dead on the Marsa Matrouh coastal road, with a noose around her neck, fully dressed and bleeding. Identifying the body and asking the family for information, the woman’s uncle confessed that her brother, an unemployed laborer, killed his married younger sister after he accused her of fleeing her home with a stranger.

While Jordan is more known for its honor crimes against women, Egypt’s most recent cases have shown that these crimes are not only a Jordanian issue. Egyptian-American activist Salma said that she is always “fearful of how honor plays out in the region.

“The way women are treated is awful sometimes. The idea that because the woman ran away with the man she loved causes her to be killed, when she is pregnant, is disgusting,” she said.

Across the region, in Jordan and Egypt, honor killings are seemingly on the rise. In Upper Egypt, where Sarah’s cousin was murdered, local rights groups have pointed to a number of cases where women have been violently beaten as a result of “going outside the norm” of the family.

In Jordan, continued murdering of daughters and sisters over the honor of the family has left many observers concerned that the situation is simply not improving.

The debate is ongoing and with the recent cases, it appears Jordan is a long way off from establishing a unified view concerning honor killings.

“The majority of people I have talked to really want to see an end to this phenomena in Jordan,” said journalist Rana Husseini, an author of a book on honor killings.

In the United States, conservative Christian leaders have argued that honor killings are “part of Islamic teaching,” as one preacher in Florida said recently. However, Husseini says that across the region this sentiment couldn’t be as far from reality.

She believes that honor killings are not a modern construction and has nothing to do with religion.

“This is not specific to Jordan or to one religion. It happens all over the world and has nothing to do with Arab culture,” she continues, adding that some of the victims in Jordan have been Christian.

The Jordanian government, for its part, has called on judges to deal with alleged “honor crimes” in the same manner as they do for normal murders. However, with a predominantly Bedouin Parliament, this is proving difficult.

Parliament has been urged to establish harsher penalties for such crimes, but they have been reluctant to do so, saying that if they did so it would lead to an increase in promiscuity across the country.

For Egypt, weak sentences are often given to male relatives who murder their female relatives, with judges often viewing the case with leniency.

Between the year 2002 and 2003, The Association of Legal Aid for Women, (CWELA) began compiling and analyzing press coverage of 20 daily newspapers and weekly magazines that dealt with domestic violence in Egypt.

CEWLA’s report also showed that the perpetrators of violence were males in 75 percent of the cases and women represented 25 percent. The perpetrators were the husbands (52 percent), the fathers (10 percent), brothers (10 percent), the mothers (four percent) the rest were the sons, relatives of the husband or of the wife, the step father or the step mother. The types of violence were murder (76 percent), attempt to murder (5 percent), battering (18 percent), kidnapping 2.5 percent and the rest were different types such as burning property, forcing women to sign checks and become guarantors of men, accusation of insanity, etc.

The report indicated that causes of violence were honor crimes (42 percent), leaving the house without the husband’s approval (7.5 percent), wives asking for divorce (3 percent).

In the same Ameriya village last September, a family was arrested after reportedly killing a 20-year-old woman over an alleged affair.

“Why do we talk so much about the honor of women in today’s Egypt, but yet we continue to turn away when our girls are murdered?” asked Sarah.

Husseini, Salma and Sarah, and rights groups worldwide have continued to call on governments in the region to act now to end these assaults on women’s ability to live their lives. Without legal action, many believe there is little that women can do but fear.

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