She describes how Egyptian women often feel self-conscious for simply being out in public because sexual harassment can be found at every corner. Though women played a central role in both the uprising against strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the military-backed movement that removed Islamist leader Mohammed Morsi last year, hopes that the Arab Spring would empower women have been dispelled.
In fact, Egypt is considered the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, according to a survey by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The report cited political instability and the rise of Islamist groups among the reasons for the repression.
Levels of sexual abuse in the country have reached new highs, according to the United Nations, which reported in 2013 that 99.3 percent of women in Egypt have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives.
“Girls are constantly paranoid when walking to the store or school,” Mahmoud said with frustration. “Harassment has become so widespread, some women rarely leave their homes.”
Victim-blaming is pervasive. “I see male rappers in Egypt writing songs to blame women for the sexual harassment inflicted upon them,” she said. “They say we deserve to be harassed because of the clothes or makeup that we wear.”
Mahmoud said she’s had it with the “double standards.”
“Girls are told what to do from day one — ‘dress conservatively, don’t be loud’,” she said. “I used the teachings I heard while growing up to write lyrics that show the previous generations in Egypt how they contributed to confining their daughters in boxes.”
Mahmoud’s hard-hitting lyrics are vexing Egypt’s ultra-conservative Islamists, who believe a woman shouldn’t be in the spotlight, especially if she wears the Islamic veil.
Mahmoud, in fact, faces discrimination because she’s veiled. Some critics go as far as calling her an “infidel” who is giving Egypt and Islam a bad name for openly discussing sexual harassment.
“One extremist man on Facebook threatened that he would find and kill me after my audition for ‘Arabs Got Talent,’ because I was a disgrace,” she said.