Physical assaults, verbal abuse and psychological violence turned the teenage years of a Cairo-based student into a nightmare. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, Malak Mohamed shares the diary of a toxic relationship with her Egyptian partner.
According to the UN, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence across the world; most of them are victims of an intimate partner. As today, November 25th, marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, the organisation is calling for 16 days of activism against gender-based violence ending on December 10th, which marks Human Rights Day. One woman shares her story...
It all began in 2010 when my mom and I decided to move to Egypt. It was the best option, since my mom wanted me to have a better education and a safer life than the one I had in South Africa. We decided to move just after returning from our yearly annual visit, and it just so happened that I also went to visit my Egyptian boyfriend at the time, Mohamed, who was 19 years old. I had just turned 13 and was excited at the idea of moving to another country to start a new chapter in my life. My mom had just divorced my dad, since we had both decided to convert to Islam whilst still living in South Africa.
At the beginning, it all went well between me and my boyfriend. His family loved us and accepted me as their daughter, and were incredibly welcoming. Until there came a twist, and with it the beginning of a five-year-long saga. By the beginning of 2011, I had a sudden intuitive feeling that something was wrong, although I didn’t know what exactly made me feel that way. All was marvelously great between me and Mohamed, or as I come to think of it now, too good to be true.
At first, it was my mother noticing there was something wrong, as she doubted his intentions. She told me this after my boyfriend and I had had an argument and he’d left our house. He was living with us at the time - his dad insisted that it was for security reasons as it was the time of the revolution and we were two foreign women alone. I know that this is virtually unheard of in Egyptian society, but I was shocked to hear my mom say this. So after he left the house, she took action. Truth be told, she opened her laptop, typed in his Facebook password, and showed me the messages he was sending to foreign girls, mostly Russians. At first, I was shocked at how my mom had gotten into his account because although at the beginning of the relationship everything was open, it all had slowly changed as he hid all social media passwords from me.
I was horrified as soon as I saw all his flirty messages and sexual chats with other women and I immediately burst into tears when I saw that some of the messages dated back to when I had visited him the previous year in 2010. So I came to the realisation that he was with me but had all these side girls without me knowing about it.
I kept quiet. But that night, all hell broke loose. He wanted me to massage him, which I did while my mom went to sleep. Commenting on my massaging, he told me I was not good enough and that he would go to a massage center so that a hot sexy girl can massage him. At that moment, all I had seen came to my mind, and I told him: “I’m not good enough but all the other girls you talk to behind my back are?” He flew into a rage, shouting and screaming at me. I had never expected that kind of aggressive reaction, so I ran and locked myself in the bathroom as he continued to shout curses and obscene words at me.
Next thing I knew, he began to kick the bathroom door. I could hear it creaking. Then it all went quiet. I decided it was safe to open the door, only to have him grab me by the hair and drag me back to my room. I can’t remember exactly what happened; as we struggled, one of us broke off the bathroom door handle. He slammed the door shut with us in the room, hit me in my face, pushed me into the corner behind the door and began kicking me. I was in such as state of shock that I didn’t even register the pain throbbing in my head where he pulled a chunk of hair out. All I can remember to this day is the words he said to me while he was hitting me on my arms, face and body; “You’re my bitch, you’re my dog.”
Suddenly my mom burst into the room, took me out and told him firmly to stop. I was just a mess of crying and bruises, shaken by all that happened. My mom then got new clothing, told me to get dressed, took her laptop and we left the house.
The doctor, who was a friend of my mother’s, was appalled just by taking a look at me. My arms were covered in bruises and there was a mark under my eye, not to mention the missing clump of hair. We immediately went to his family and spoke to his mother and father and showed them the various relationships he was having behind my back, which had sparked his violent assault. They were beyond shocked at how he could do this and his father agreed to let us sleep over for the night and the next morning take us back home and take Mohamed out of our house.
The next day, Mohamed called me to apologise and took me out to his sporting club to talk to me. Needless to say, I took him back. But nothing ever changed really. I caught him messaging, as if he was single, another Russian girl a few months later. As usual, he hit me and slapped me on my face. This happened continuously throughout 2011 and slowly the more my mom began telling me to let him go, I found myself giving excuses to why I deserved his punishment.
Slowly, I began to change and soon found myself being somebody I’m not. By nature I’m an outgoing and confident soul. Under his iron fist rule, he chose what I had to wear, how I had to behave, who I had to talk to, whom I would go out with, where to and why. It went as far as putting on my make up! I was told I was not good enough because I looked “like a cow” according to him, which led to him forcing me to exercise for ridiculously long periods and hardly eat. All just to get me to his satisfactory level of thin. I used to back him up as if he was God. It came to a point where I was so dependent on him that I had to literally get his approval for everything because I felt I was useless and doubting my own sanity. He knew he had control over my mind to such a point that he manipulated me into having arguments with my mom over petty things because he wanted to get his way.
But all of this was a minor situation compared to what was to come. In 2012, we had an argument again. He was chatting to another girl on Facebook, insisting that I must go to sleep. This is how my daily routine went; from school I would come home to him on Facebook chatting away. That evening, I asked him in front of my mom: what does he hide every day by having me go straight to sleep when I get home? Without a warning, he grabbed me and pushed me up against the wall and held me there by my throat. I could feel how his hand was closing on me. I remember my mom getting up shouting at him to leave me as he was choking me, but he pushed her away. It was as if he’d turned into another person.
As I was struggling, I began to dig at his hand and gradually began to feel like I was losing consciousness. The last thing I said was “Mohamed stop, you are killing me.” Suddenly, he dropped me to the floor and I began wheezing for air. Mohamed stood back and looked at me and then at his hands, as if he couldn’t believe it was his same hands strangling me just a minute before. He ran to the room and locked himself in for hours.
After another incident, I realised his family never really meant that I was like their daughter. We were having Mohamed’s mother and brother over, and we were cooking pasta together. When I opened the pasta bag, it accidently tore and I dropped some pasta on the floor. Without warning, he turned and slapped me in my face so hard that I flew across the kitchen and fell into the dish cupboard, next to where his mother was standing. The sting and heat from his slap was extremely sore. Shocked and embarrassed, I looked up to his mom and said: “help me” with tears pouring down my face. All she did was to look at me in disappointment, shake her head and walk away as Mohamed told her to leave me.
It was pretty hard hiding my personality change at school but I managed. I felt sadness and pain inside, but I felt it was a goal to see other people laugh at my jokes. I dreaded going home by bus at the end of the day. The next year, as it was our turn to visit South Africa, we took Mohamed with us. All was paid by my grandparents. I was shocked and angered at the same time coming back when I asked him how was the trip, only to get told “Fucked up and it’s a rubbish country. I don’t want to ever go there again.”
Fast forward to 2014, when he began to meet and talk often with an Australian woman whom he had conned into sending him money for a “computer business” he wanted to start. They began speaking every night, and he would run to the bathroom and lock himself in there for two hours just to chat to her. I eventually got to talk to her, but by that time she was so brainwashed by his lies that she thought I was mental and refused to listen to anything I tried to tell her. Later I found out she kept sending him huge sums of money.
We also bought a house in Ain Sokhna for 70,000 LE, paid by my mom and Mohamed’s father; but my mom never even signed an owner’s contract, so they basically bought a house with my mother’s money and had the nerve to not even have her sign. And throughout the years they borrowed money they swore to give back. Until now, not a pound has been returned. We also filed a lawsuit against his abuse towards me and the police did nothing about it so we are now following it up with a lawyer.
I got out of this relationship and realised I was a victim of abuse when my mom chased him out of our house in 2014 and she began speaking to me and showing me the habits and actions of narcissistic abuse and the “Gas lighting effect.” I was still in a state of shock until the brighter side came when I began to make new friends at school, where I could talk without being instructed on what to do. That is where I met a really great friend who encouraged me. It was through him and my mother that I got back what I had lost over five years. I was only 13, and I put an end to our toxic relationship when I was 18, supposedly the best years of a person growing up. Not for me; I will forever remember it as some of the darkest, saddest days of my life. I often think back to the many nights I cried myself to sleep, wishing I had an easier teenage life.
I wish I could turn back the time but I sadly cannot. I still remember even our milder arguments, when he would smash my head on the floor, spit on me and punch me hard on my chest. He would do all this while my mom was not at home and verbally threatened me not to tell her. One of the last pushing and shoving occasions ended up with me fainting and having severe pain in my heart from anger and shock. I was rushed to the hospital and put on a glucose drip and given medicine to calm my heart rate, but it never really cured the condition. He left me with chronic angina, resulting in me not having to get extremely angry or shocked or else I suffer from severe heartache.
I would like all the ladies out there to know one thing that my dad told me: “Once a man lifts his hands to you, no matter how sorry he says he is, he will never stop.” What is sickening is that Mohamed used the Qu'ran as an excuse to hit me. That is not Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, not abuse.
Main image by Fouad El Batrawi.