Egyptian vigilantes, tired of seeing women publicly catcalled, groped, and worse 24/7, are now traveling around in groups shaming and, yes, harassing street harassers by spray-painting them in the face and "smacking" them around.
It's obviously not ideal to combat aggression with more aggression, and it's easy to see how this strategy could get violent very quickly: "Sometimes the patrol acted after seeing a woman being groped," the New York Times reports. "At other times, it justified its attacks as preventive." How, exactly, do you define preventative?
But advocates have tried every other option. How else can they hold street harassers accountable? They can't. One woman who tried posting photos of harassers on the internet a la Hollaback! was eventually attacked. Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi, hasn't done much beyond parroting weak talking points. The cops don't do shit, as evidenced by this frustrating anecdote:
"They're now doing the undoable?" a police officer joked as he watched the vigilantes chase down the young man. The officer quickly went back to sipping his tea.
The citizen groups' work may be effectively shaming Morsi's administation: last week, his spokesperson said that the government had received more than 1,000 reports of harassment and was planning to "investigate" them. The vigilantes don't want to keep waiting around. This is what's going on in the meantime:
Over the holiday, the groups staked out different parts of Cairo's downtown. One avoided any violence, forming human chains between women and their tormentors. The other group forcefully confronted men and boys it suspected of harassment, smacking around suspects before hauling them off to a police station.
Two boys on a scooter hardly knew what hit them. One minute, they were driving along the Nile Corniche, saying something - maybe lewd, maybe not - to two girls strolling on the sidewalk. The next, they were being hauled off the scooter by the men in green vests. The melee that broke out afterward stopped traffic on one of downtown's busiest roadways, before the police chased the patrol members off.
Some are more organized:
When the group believes someone is being harassed, some members form a wall between the attacker and the victim, while others take the woman to safety. "We don't push back, and we don't fight," Ms. Zaghloul said. They ask police officers to be present, in case the woman wants to file a report.
Is this an ideal justice system at work? Hardly. But, unlike the police and the president, these vigilantes are working tirelessly to end street harassment — and they should be commended for that.