A man on a crammed public bus presses his pelvis against the body of a veiled woman. Another grabs her bottom as she walks on the street in broad daylight.
Compared to the deadly clashes that have erupted in Egypt’s streets and the change of government, these episodes may seem secondary. Yet they have been commonplace for decades. Director Mohamed Diab has chosen to include them in a movie that portrays three women enduring sexual harassment, with the social pressure and silence that go with it.
“What we want to say through this movie is that you should speak out and hold your head up high,” Diab said in an interview in Cairo. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of, so do say that you have been sexually harassed.”
Titled “678” -- the Cairo bus line that one of the female protagonists rides every day -- the film is showing in theaters at a time when attention is elsewhere. An increasing number of women joined protests in recent weeks.
“I was convinced that it should be a man who talks about this subject,” said the director. “Women’s organizations in the Arab world do not have credibility, and are believed to be biased.”
Even so, Diab met with objections from both men and women each time he showed the script to potential production partners -- until he spoke to the actress and singer Boshra. When he told her that he had written a short movie about sexual harassment, she suggested that he turn it into a full-length feature film that she would produce.
“I knew that the women who are being written about will be happier,” Diab said, “while the men will take offense, as if I am telling each one of them that he is a harasser. For almost 25 percent of the men, this movie was science fiction. They told me I was exaggerating. There was a lot of sympathy from those who believe in the cause of the movie.”
Actress Yara Goubran -- the veiled government clerk who was sexually harassed on public transport in the film -- said she was not deterred by the subject. The reaction she got was “very positive.”
“I knew it would be shocking because of the fact that sexual harassment is being talked about so openly,” Goubran said in an interview. “But when we have a problem in society, we have to talk about it in public. Women should know that sexual harassment must not be tolerated.”
The movie comes as a report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights says 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women are being exposed to harassment on the street and public transport.
“One of the best reactions I encountered was at the movie theater,” said Diab. “When the film screening ended, men made space for women to let them pass -- whether out of fear or respect -- instead of going out in a stampede.”