A Muslim against Violence in Islam
Her boldness and courage to stand in the midst of tyranny earned Samira a place in TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, and sparked a nationwide protest that forced the government to stop their practice of virginity tests on the women of Egypt.
Samira Ibrahim’s Early Biography
Samira was born in 1987 in Cairo, Egypt. Her father, Ibrahim Muhammad Mahmud, was a political activist who went against the government of the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. He was often critiqued by Mubarak’s government for his outspoken beliefs in democracy and social justice and occasionally got into trouble with the authorities for actively participating in rallies that called for the coming down of President Mubarak.
Ibrahim Muhammad Mahmud was also a member of the world-renowned group called al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, a group dedicated to promoting the welfare of the Muslim people. Samira’s mother, on the other hand, was an active member of the Muslim brotherhood, and both her parents were strongly opposed to the ruling elite.
Under President Mubarak’s reign, Egypt was in a mess. Crime was rampant, and human rights were either violated or ignored. Most of Egypt’s population suffered in poverty and the women were abused to please men. This was the kind of life that surrounded Samira and her family during her childhood. Fortunately, Samira grew up in a good family, where she was taught the principles of social justice and freedom, and showered with all the love and care that her parents could give her.
She looked up to her father and often listened to him telling stories about his dream of an Egypt where society was equal, and the people did not suffer. Her mother also instilled in Samira self-confidence and a great love for the people of Egypt.
At a very young age, Samira became very interested in a lot of revolutionary ideals (due to her parents’ influence and inspiration on her). She was a fan of Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary leader, and of the songs that inspired freedom during the 1950s.
She was also a bit of a ‘tomboy,’ not backing down from the boys who would try to mistreat her. In fact, there was a time when she punched a boy for bullying her younger brother. She gained a reputation for being tough and due to her membership in the brotherhood, boys and girls of her age became wary of irritating her!
Samira’s Political Involvement Starts Early
Her mother’s membership in the Muslim brotherhood gave Samira a fortunate advantage compared to the other girls of her age because she was able to be educated. She was a bright and inquisitive student, which impressed her teachers for her ability to quickly catch up with what she was being taught; however, this also brought some annoyance to them, as Samira often asked a lot of questions pertaining to the legitimacy of the government’s actions, and at a young age started to become one of the government’s critics.
When she was 15 years old, Samira wrote a school article that questioned and criticized the country’s state policies towards Palestine. The article became popular not just among the students of the school but also among some of the public where the article was spread. When it reached the authorities, they arrested Samira and detained her. In spite of her age, a legal case was brought against her by the authorities and from that time on the police started to view her as a threat to the state.
Inspired by her father, Samira recalls how when she was a very young child, her dad always told her that Egypt was being ruled by the “gangs” in the government. In her teens, whenever she came home back from school, she would destroy the lamps on the lampposts along the street that she passed through so in the evening she could come back and post flyers that read, “A gang is governing Egypt” without anyone seeing her because it was dark.
A Courageous Muslim Woman
Soon enough, her actions became infamous with the local authorities that they installed a checkpoint to figure out who was breaking the lampposts. When she was arrested, the authorities were so surprised at the fact that it was just a teenage girl who was doing the ‘crimes.’ In fact, Samira said in one of her interviews that “The officer who arrested me couldn’t believe that it was me who had been doing this.”
Being unable to determine her actions, the authorities simply let her go, believing that her arrest would discourage her to continue what she was doing. To their dismay, it simply made her more determined to go against the tyrannical rule of Mubarak’s regime.
Aside from having trouble with the government, Samira’s inquisitive nature also caused her to often be at odds with her Sheikh, whom she often questioned for the brotherhood’s view of women being lower than men. In spite of growing in a family that was mostly comprised of brotherhood members, Samira did not think like them; she argued with her Sheikh most of the time, causing them to see her as a threat to the established religion as well.
In one instance, Samira encouraged the entire class to argue, which greatly enraged her Sheikh; as a result, she was asked to step out of the class. This caused her to decide to leave the Muslim brotherhood for their unequal views on men and women.
Samira engaged in activism more and more as she went into her young adulthood, starting with fighting for the worker’s rights.
Going against President Mubarak
The Egyptian constitution gave President Mubarak nearly unlimited powers in controlling the agricultural and industrial area of the country, allowing him to take large sums of money and depriving the workers of their right to have a fair salary. President Mubarak often used the funds for his own purposes, which included preparing his son to ‘inherit’ the presidency after him.
Unrest started to grow amongst the working class members of the society, and Samira leveraged on this to help start the protest that the workers have been long planning.
In 2008, Samira participated in a worker’s strike that began at an aluminum factory in Upper Egypt. That same year, another strike was held at Mahalla, a large city in Northern Egypt that was well-known for its textile industry. Along with numerous other protesters, Samira took to the streets as a means of showing the government the public’s distaste for the Mubarak regime’s actions. Throughout the following years, Samira travelled around the country and helped organize protests and strikes, something which often led to subsequent arrests.
Aside from actively participating in protests, Samira also worked in a well-known marketing firm at Cairo. Initially starting out as a store clerk, her skills and efforts were immediately noticed, impressing most of her superiors and eventually promoting her to general manager.
In spite of getting arrested several times, Samira never lost the will to fight for freedom and social justice. In January 2011, Samira actively joined the nationwide revolution that called for the stepping down of President Mubarak. She was among those at Tahrir Square who was arrested on January 26, but was released two days later. When Mubarak finally stepped down and turned over the power to the Armed Forces, the protesters, including Samira, sat-in at the square.
Instrumental in Ending Inhumane Virginity Test Said to be “Commanded in Islam”
However, on March 2011, the armed forces forcibly dispersed the protesters by using tanks and soldiers, and dozens of them were arrested, which included Samira. This time, Samira would have the worst experience of her life—she and 17 other women were sent to a military camp just outside Cairo.
On their arrival, the women were separated into two lines; one line was for the ‘virgins’ and the other for the ‘non-virgins.’ Initially, they were electrocuted and tortured for information, but afterwards, they were subjected to a ‘virginity test.’
In an interview made with her a few months later, Samira recalled how terrible the experience was when she underwent the test:
“In the virginity test case, I was forced to take off my clothes in front of military officials. Secondly, the person that conducted the test was an officer, not a doctor. He had his hand stuck in me for about five minutes. He made me lose my virginity. Every time I think of this, I don't know what to tell you, I feel awful. I don't know how to describe it to you.”
The military’s cruel treatment of Samira and her fellow women left a very painful scar in her. Up until then, she kept her virginity intact for her future husband, but the actions of the soldiers who imprisoned her started to make her think twice. Fortunately, in spite of the incident, she had loving family members who continued to accept and help her. Her father, Muhammad, was infuriated when he learned of what the soldiers did to her daughter.
With the help of her family and friends, Samira was spared from everlasting disgrace and depression. Sometime after the incident, Samira, with the assistance of her father, took to the court and brought a case against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces or SCAF for the inhuman and cruel treatment of his daughter.
Through the long and drawn-out series of hearings, Samira was able to finally voice out centuries of mistreatment of women, and was able to make a strong case against the SCAF, becoming the first ever woman to stand up against the military in court.
In March 2012, a military court acquitted the so called ‘military doctor’ who performed tests on Samira. Although this brought disappointing news to her and her family, the case that they brought to the court was nonetheless fruitful. Because of Samira’s boldness in challenging the years of ‘virginity tests’ that the military was doing on women, the court issued an order that banned the act, saving other prisoners from going through the same trouble.
Organizer of Know Your Rights Initiative
More recently, Samira has taken the case to the African Commission, which is currently in talks with the provisional government to provide recommendations against the practice of virginity testing.
Samira’s battle has not yet ended. Currently, she is actively participating in various protests that are focused on promoting women’s rights and social justice. Her actions have sparked a movement that greatly affected a huge portion of the way things were done in her country. She is passionately engaging and promoting initiatives that she believes would benefit her country greatly.
Her “Know Your Rights” initiative, which covers Upper Egypt, aims to help street children by raising their awareness and promoting their welfare and education. Samira also actively supports the “Let’s Sign the International Criminal Court Treaty,” which calls for the punishment of the former members of the Egyptian government under President Mubarak.
Today, Samira goes on forward, believing that her country has a brighter future. In one of her interviews, when she was asked for a good advice she could give women, she said:
“Go for it! Nothing is impossible even if it seems like it at first. As with any choice we make there is a price to be paid no doubt. I paid the price with my reputation, but that is all right because it is done in the name of a greater cause.”
Samira Ibrahim's Controversial Statements on Twitter
Samiras' Twitter account was said to have been hacked and someone posing as her tweeted malicious statements about the bombing of the Twin Tower in New York and an Israeli bus. This caused the United States to withdraw the pending International Woman of Courage Award supposed to be handed to her by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Nation of Change
- Know Your Rights
Awards and Achievements
- 2012: Included in the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine