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Egyptian Activist Denied State Department Honor Over Anti-Semitic, Anti-American Tweets

BY Lisa Goldman | Tuesday, March 12 2013

Samira Ibrahim (image: YouTube screengrab)

An Egyptian activist who was slated to be presented with a Woman of Courage Award at a ceremony hosted in Washington, D.C. by Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama has been sent home after a conservative D.C.-based publication unearthed tweets in which she expressed anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments.

Samira Ibrahim became an unlikely political activist in 2011. The 26 year-old marketing manager from a conservative Muslim family in a small southern Egyptain town was at a March 9, 2011 protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square when soldiers dragged her, along with several other women, to the nearby national museum. There the women were subjected to what the army called "virginity tests." The tests were actually sexual assaults performed by a soldier wearing a white lab coat. The women were forced to undress and be subjected to a brutal internal examination. As Ibrahim later recounted, when she initially refused to undress for the so-called examination, soldiers used tasers to deliver electric shocks to her abdomen until she submitted.

According to senior officers in the army, the idea behind the "virginity tests" was to "prove" that the women were not virgins, so that they could not claim they had been raped while in custody. This claim is, of course, predicated on two erroneous beliefs — that only a virgin can be raped, and that a woman's virginity can be verified by performing a cursory internal examination.

In Egypt's deeply conservative society, women are widely expected to be virgins until they marry. Rape and sexual assault are blamed on the victim, who is supposed to feel deeply shamed. And so most women deny or hide these incidents. It is very rare for a woman to take a complaint of sexual assault to the police.

Ibrahim took the military regime, known by the acronym SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces) to court. And she won.

For her bravery, the young woman was included in TIME Magazine's list of 100 influential people in 2012. This year, she was invited by the State Department to receive a Woman of Courage Award, alongside nine other bloggers, teachers and human rights advocates.

Ibrahim had already landed in Washington, D.C., when the conservative Weekly Standard reported that her Twitter timeline included anti-Semitic and anti-American statements.

Amongst the tweets discovered by the Standard was one in which Ibrahim comments on a July 2012 attack on a bus transporting Israeli tourists visiting Bulgaria. "An explosion on a bus carrying Israelis in Burgas airport in Bulgaria on the Black Sea. Today is a very sweet day with a lot of very sweet news." Five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver were killed in that attack.

In August, she tweeted that Saudi Arabia's ruling family was "dirtier than the Jews." In another anti-Semitic tweet, she quoted Adolf Hitler, apparently with approval: "I have discovered with the passage of days, that no act contrary to morality, no crime against society, takes place, except with the Jews having a hand in it. Hitler."

And when a mob attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo in September 2012, she tweeted. "Today is the anniversary of 9/11. May every year come with America burning."

Ibrahim has since deleted the offensive tweets, although several people preserved them as screen shots. At first she claimed that her account had been hacked, but later she turned defiant, refusing to apologize to "the Zionist lobby."

The State Department decided to withhold the award, pending an investigation into Ibrahim's background.

Ibrahim's views on Jews and the United States are unfortunately not uncommon in Egypt. But it is interesting that despite her anti-American tweets she was still eager to accept an award from the government she purportedly loathes. After all, she could have turned down the opportunity to come on an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, in order to receive an award from the First Lady and the former Secretary of State at a glamorous ceremony heavily covered by the media.

But she accepted the trip, and then she was brought down by her tweets. Now the question is how the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which is well known for actively engaging with Egyptians on social media in both Arabic and English, failed to notice and alert the State Department about Samira Ibrahim's offensive tweets.