Cairo - Silvy Ramzi - her hair long, usually in tight jeans and
sleeveless shirts on hot summer days - stands out amid the crowds of
veiled women, often also clad in long Islamic black robes.
Ramzi, a young Copt, has been riding the metro to school for over a
year. But even here in the all-women carriages of Cairo's metro the
stares of commuters and the occasional comments on her dress have not
In highly conservative Egypt, women usually prefer the one or two
carriages reserved for female commuters located at one end of the metro
In the mixed ones, recently called 'the men's carriages,' harassment
is reportedly common as men and women crowd in during rush hour.
'In the men's carriage,' says Ramzi, 'everyone is squashed in, men
and women together, and you often get comments and stares from men.
Guys often touch, grope and push against other women. It's really bad
The 19-year-old student of international trade explains that it is
only safe to ride 'the men's carriage' when accompanied by her male
colleagues. Otherwise 'everyone else reacts like nothing has happened
when a woman or a girl is harassed.'
Egypt's women seem to have made a unanimous decision to squeeze
themselves in the separate women's carriages, leaving the rest of metro
space for men, even in quiet hours.
Nevertheless, there is a different kind of harassment in the women's compartments.
'Sometimes I hear (the veiled Muslim) women talking about the way
I'm dressed,' Ramzi says. 'They speak in a loud voice, intentionally so
I can hear them and take the hint.'
Coloured and all-black veils, long robes, long sleeves and long
dresses and even niqab (face-scarves) dominate the women's society in
the metro. Being veiled is the norm.
So is reciting duaa al-rukoub (the Muslim prayer for the riders), something else which Ramzi does not do.
Often as a Muslim commuter steps into the car, she will greet the
rest of the women and asks her 'Muslim sisters' to recite a short
prayer, marking a long-standing tradition that Muslims follow while
travelling, whether riding a horse or camel, or a vehicle.
The prayer is meant to protect the rider from harm and remind them of God's blessing on them.
'When I don't join in, some women come to me and enquire,' says
Ramzi, who wears a gold cross around her neck and has another cross
tattooed on her wrist.
'I just tell them that I am a Christian, they look at me and just
go,' says Ramzi. 'It bothers me. I think a prayer is something that you
whisper to yourself, instead of declaring out loud.'
Some women who do not recite the prayer, or are too shy to approach people, still deem it a duty.
'I know I should do it, I'd say it but I'm too shy,' says a 29-
year-old Duaa Abdel-Moneim, as she leans on a metro door, dressed in
black robes and thick black shades that cover most of her face.
Religious activity is manifested in so many ways in the metro lines.
Prayer beads, Islamic literature, and even women's prayer suits (an
outfit covering her body from head to toe except for her face and
hands) are sold on metros.
Women and especially young girls reading the Koran as they ride is also a familiar sight.
All over the metro, stickers urging Muslims to remember God or to
quit smoking, reminiscent from the holy fasting month of Ramadan, are
visible around the walls.
Women with a different dress code are advised to follow the right
dress, and when they are not directly addressed they are often followed
by steely gazes.
In this microcosmic community, marked by observance of long-held Islamic traditions, outsiders are rarely welcomed.