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As Egypt's presidential election presents extraordinary challenges, GlobalPost offers this continuing series to shed light on how the country will move forward under its first-ever civilian head of state and how the soon-to-be-drafted constitution will protect civil rights in a new Egypt. 

Samira Ibrahim portrait
Samira Ibrahim in a hotel room in Cairo, Egypt on October 17, 2011. (Elizabeth D. Herman/GlobalPost)

Against all odds: ‘Virginity test’ victim awaits her verdict

Though evidence is scarce, Samira Ibrahim seeks criminal action against the soldiers who allegedly abused her.

CAIRO — Samira Ibrahim, who pursued legal action against the Egyptian military for allegedly forcing her to undergo a ‘virginity test,’ anxiously awaits the verdict of the State Council on November 29.

Five human rights organizations are supporting her case against the military and the case garnered interest in the international media. Her case could break new ground for women’s rights, but Ibrahim has been warned by her own lawyers that it is an uphill battle and that there is little in the way of physical evidence.

Still, Ibrahim remains persistent in her fight to make sure no Egyptian woman will be coerced by the army to go through ‘virginity testing,‘ which her lawyers argue constitutes an unlawful sexual assault under both Egyptian and International law.

“I know the odds are against me,” Ibrahim admits.

Ibrahim was among 17 girls who were detained on March 9 during protests in Tahrir Square. “I was beaten, electrocuted, and forced to strip naked in front of male officers,” Ibrahim fights back tears as she recalls the four days she spent in military prison.

“I have to speak up about this and fight for justice.”
~Samira Ibrahim

Read GlobalPost's original story: Samira vs. the military

Employing the two legal options available to her, Ibrahim filed an official complaint with the military prosecution to pursue criminal action against her alleged abusers, and registered a case with the State Council Administrative Court to appeal the use of ‘virginity tests’ in all military facilities.

The official complaint before the Administrative Court states that Ibrahim “was exposed to the ugliest forms of humiliation, torture and a violation of the sanctity of her body.”

In a court hearing on October 25, the State Council lawyer denied this allegation and called for the dismissal of the case based on lack of evidence.

Despite the admission of an Egyptian general to CNN that the ‘virginity checks’ were indeed performed on detained female protesters, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) maintains that the military did no such thing, while also informing Human Rights Watch that they “ordered an end to these virginity tests.”

Human rights violations by Egypt’s military

Ibrahim’s case brings forward challenges to the ruling military as mounting allegations of human rights violations put SCAF in the national spotlight. The Egyptian armed forces have been accused of clamping down on activists as well as detaining, torturing and killing protesters.

“We never imagined that we would be spending so much of our time documenting so many abuses by the military,” admits Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Morayef says HRW has been documenting cases of protesters arrested and tortured at the hands of the military for months, so she was not surprised when a total of 173 protesters, including 17 women, were detained on March 9.

“But the virginity tests were a surprise,” she tells GlobalPost. “It was unprecedented.”

Ibrahim is also pursuing an appeal for her military tribunal. She received a suspended one-year sentence before being released in March. “She was the first female civilian to be tried in a military court,” her lawyer Ahmed Hossam adds.

According to HRW, Egypt’s military has brought almost 12,000 civilians before military tribunals since January. This is more than the total number of civilians who faced military trials during the 30-year rule of Hosni Mubarak and undermines Egypt’s move from dictatorship to democratic rule, said HRW.

“I have to speak up about this and fight for Justice,” says Ibrahim, whose cross-bag is covered with “No to Military Trials for Civilians” bumper stickers.

The five different human rights groups representing Ibrahim legally are: the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, the New Woman Foundation, Nazra for Feminist Studies, and the No to Military Trials Group.

Ibtissam Hassan, a lawyer with the Nadim Center, remarks that Ibrahim has a clear concept of what it means to have her rights violated. “Some girls did not understand the concept of “violation” and had to have it explained to them,” she tells GlobalPost, but Ibrahim had a good grasp of human rights law.