January 03, 2014

Young rapper from Egypt: "We girls are fed up."

The Egyptian student Mayam Mahmoud, 18, appeared on "Arabs Got Talent" – and became world famous as the singer with the headscarf. She lost in the casting show, but she keeps on rapping and fights for gender equality.

Here is the English translation to an interview, the German SPIEGEL did with her today:

SPIEGEL: Why do you write songs about discrimination and sexual harassment in your country?

Mahmoud: I don't write about politics, there are enough others doing that. I write about girl's stuff that effects me directly. And it's a fact that the girls here are simply fed up. Our daily life is full of stress. I really believe that the next revolution will be a women's revolution. Because I at least don't keep quiet if a guy harasses me. If he verbally assaults me, I verbally assault him. One guy once touched me, I grabbed him at his collar and punched him on the head. He was totally shocked. The problem is: We don't have laws here against sexual harassment and we shouldn't wait for them either. We ourselves must get active. There is an iPhone app with the name "True Caller", you can report bad guys there. And I did. I'm not against the men. I wish I could solve their problems. I wish I could heal them – heal them from whatever pushes them to hurt us.

SPIEGEL: Many Egyptians think that young women who speak up are a provocation. Weren't you afraid of being condemned by society?

Mahmoud: No, I'm not afraid to offend or being criticised. No one has the right to judge me. What can one expect from a society that puts marriage for a girl as the highest goal; of people who yell at you on the street: "May you soon be a bride"? Why do these people say: "Don't cry like a girl" or "She is an old spinster"? I hate that. Why don't they look at a man and deem him an old spinster? If a girl breathes loud they tell you to contain your breath so not to seduce someone! Our society demands girls to be split personalities. On the one hand they say: "You move so graciously" and on the other hand: "You arouse attention". Or: "Look down – but look enchanting."

SPIEGEL: And because your anger needed an outlet you started to rap?

Mahmoud: Well it is like this: I write poems since I was eight. Since I could read my parents gave me books as gifts. And my mother loves poetry, she taught me a lot about our poets. Since childhood I carry a little notebook around with me and I write into it about all sort of things, things I love and things I hate. Some poems are done in a very fast rhythm, so later I realised they could be good for rapping. So I started to rap and my parents loved it. My father encouraged me to go on. It was he too who convinced me to take part in the casting show "Arabs Got Talent".

SPIEGEL: After your appearance you became known worldwide as Egypt's youngest rapper wearing a headscarf ...

Mahmoud: Well, my father didn't want me to wear the headscarf, but I wanted it. I was 13 when I decided to wear it. And that was my own decision. I like myself with it and I feel free with it, it is that simple. Ok, in the West many wonder how such ideas can live under the headscarf, but I don't like these stereotypes.

SPIEGEL: Three years ago your country experienced a revolution but not much has changed in the heads of the people, or what would you say?

Mahmoud: I was very happy when the revolution broke out in 2011 but I was too young to take to the streets, I was 15. Today I believe that the real revolution, the one in our heads, has not yet begun. Changes in society take time. They are only possible if the people realise that not the system but they themselves must change. To be honest, I don't believe that anything is going to change in the next ten years in Egypt.

SPIEGEL: What are your dreams? What are your hopes for the future?

Mahmoud: I wish I could bring about change in this world, at least in my country. That I can teach something to others and inspire them. Looking back I always wished to be a boy because everyone tried to make me believe I was just a girl that was not allowed to get injured while playing, because my face wouldn't be beautiful anymore. Because of this I envied my brother and his freedom and his wounds. But now I am proud to be a girl. Because women are not less tough than men, they are tougher. A woman who can give birth to a later president can become president herself. She only must believe in herself. There are so many girls who watched me on "Arabs Got Talent" and later wrote messages on facebook to me. They wrote that they decided to from now on not be quiet anymore. That made me proud.