CAIRO (AP) — As soon as the beat started, the young woman bobbed her head to the rhythm, raised her hands to get the crowd clapping and then unleashed a flood of rap lyrics that tackled some of the biggest social challenges women face in the Arab world.
With the Middle East’s hit TV show “Arabs Got Talent” as her stage, 18-year-old Myam Mahmoud rapped about sexual harassment, second-class treatment of women, and societal expectations of how a young religious woman should behave.
The Egyptian teenager didn’t win the program — she crashed out in the semifinals — but she did succeed in throwing the spotlight on something bigger than herself.
“I wanted to tell girls in Egypt and everywhere else that they are not alone, we all have the same problems, but we cannot stay silent, we have to speak up,” Mahmoud, who wears an Islamic headscarf but not a full-face veil, told The Associated Press.
In Egypt, a country where politics have grabbed most of the headlines for the past three years, little space has been dedicated to addressing social problems. So Mahmoud, who is a first-year student of politics and economics at the October 6 University in a western Cairo suburb, decided to draw attention to women’s rights through rap.
“Everybody speaks about politics, but nobody tackles the topics that relate to me the most,” Mahmoud said.
She said she gets the ideas for her songs from the surrounding community, and that sometimes girls send her their problems to write about and give them a voice.
“Many girls want to say what I rap about, but they cannot for many reasons,” she said. “I speak for them.”
One of the biggest problems for woman in Egypt is sexual harassment. A U.N. report released in April said the issue had reached “unprecedented levels,” with 99.3 percent of women in the country reporting that they have been subjected to sexual harassment.
“There is no single female in Egypt that has not been harassed, regardless of her looks,” Mahmoud said. “As soon as a girl is born in Egypt, she is repressed with many pressures.”
Part of the problem, in Mahmoud’s eyes, is that women don’t speak out against harassment.