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Mona Eltahawy

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Mona Eltahawy knows what it is to feel pure rage.

She knew it when she was brutally attacked and sexually molested by Egyptian police in a small side-street off Tahrir Square last November at the height of the protests against the Mubarak regime.

And she was at the receiving end of it when radicals and feminists alike lashed out at her after her recent – and to put it mildly, controversial – piece on hatred of women in the Middle East appeared in Foreign Policy magazine earlier this year.

But while the physical attack on her was a first, the fiery, opinionated 44-year-old journalist is no stranger to conflict and controversy.

Indeed, some would say they’re her middle name.

As a reporter in the Middle East for almost 23 years, Mona is the anti-thesis of the neutral, pragmatic journalist.

She is reactionary, passionate, emotional. She storms into the centre of conflict – she was the first Egyptian journalist to live and work for a Western news agency in Israel – and challenges authoritarian regimes. She has reported from Cairo and Jerusalem for Reuters and for various media from Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Lybia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and China.

But it is her opinion writing that truly chronicles who she is – a sharp-talking, informed, unapologetic commentator on Arab and Muslim issues who takes on Islamic radicals and anti-Islamic bigots with equal acerbity. After her Foreign Policy article titled Why Do They Hate Us?, she came in for vicious personal attack, not just from men but also the women of the Middle East. “Instead of challenging my facts, the reaction has been: How dare you make us look bad,” she said in an interview to Britain’s The Independent recently. “I’m really pissed off. I was at the receiving end of a beating and a sexual assault, so when I talk about misogyny and hatred of women, I’ve experienced it personally on my body.”

Yet for all that – and despite the fact that she has a titanium plate and screws in her left arm; that she sees a psychologist who specialises in trauma once a week; that she needs regular physiotherapy, Mona remains fundamentally a positive, vocal force for change in the Middle East. Though based out of New York for the last few years, she visits Egypt virtually every month since the attack and is a columnist for the Toronto Star, Israel’s The Jerusalem Report and Denmark’s Politiken, apart from writing for the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune.

One of the most prolific users of social media in journalistic circles – she tweeted news of her arrest and assault on a borrowed phone from an Egyptian prison – Mona is a lecturer and researcher on the growing importance of social media in the Arab world at universities in New York and Oklahoma, and at the UN mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. She is a hugely-respected public speaker and a much-awarded journalist; most recently she won the Special Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Journalism awarded by the Anna Lindh Foundation and the University of Denver’s Anvil of Freedom Award. In 2009, the European Union awarded her the prestigious Samir Kassir Prize for Freedom of the Press while Search for Common Ground named her winner of its Eliav Sartawi Award for Middle Eastern Journalism.

But awards and attacks both pale in front of the sheer unstoppable energy of this woman. “When this titanium plate is removed, I’m going to get a tattoo on this arm of Mohamed Mahmoud street, where I was attacked,” she told The Independent. “And then on the other arm, I’m going to get Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex. She has the head of a lioness.”

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