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Lingerie keeps us abreast of Egypt.

Summary: In Egypt, 2014 was a less than light-hearted year. However, one curious, perhaps significant development stands out.

In Egypt, 2014 was a less than light-hearted year. However, one curious, perhaps significant development stands out.

Lionized for rescuing Egypt from its would-be usurpers, the Islamists, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi's election as president was unsurprising. But the degree of adoration that Egyptians expressed for the former army general was unusual, even in the country where sycophancy was practically invented. Men and women alike were strangely drawn to the 59-year-old leader, investing him with every virtue, beginning with virility. A popular new "military" wedding theme paid homage to the president, with grooms dressed up as army officers and bridesmaids wearing Egypt's national colors bearing Sisi's framed portrait ensconced in their bouquets.

It was then but a short step to the nation's bedrooms, where the latest thing in lingerie this year was the "officer's uniform," a stretchy brief, a see-through top with drawn-on epaulets and a set of plastic handcuffs, all black, made by "Sexkiss Brand" in China and sold for 185 Egyptian pounds -- around a third of an average monthly salary. Plastic badges and guns, I was told by one of the veiled shop girls in a downtown Cairo store called Mondiana, come separately.

While these things are available in foreign sex shops, and lingerie shops are Egypt's closest, albeit remote, equivalent to them, local tastes in bedroom wear have typically run to the extravagantly romantic with a hint of raunch: feather boas and sequined sheaths, ruffled knickers with "kiss me" written in rhinestones across the crotch. The oriental dancer costume is a perennial favorite, tassel-tipped bras, bejeweled headpieces and anklets, low-slung belts wafting polyester chiffon.

Lately we've seen more punkish lycra tubes slashed into complicated cut-out shapes, displayed to great effect on mannequins with pert buttocks and erect nipples. But handcuffs and badges not only represent a departure from tradition, they are peculiar erotica in a place where "officers" maintain strict, often violent, control of many aspects of their lives.

The rapport between the sexes is admittedly not as playful as it once was. Sexual harassment, unknown to Egypt in the 1980s, has grown commonplace in the last decade and horrific gang assaults have multiplied in recent years. Whereas men once flirted by singing snatches of love songs or calling women things like "minaret" or "gazelle" as they passed by, one is now treated to exclamations of "I f--k you!" or, conversely, the prayers men mutter presumably to ward off demons.

"Who buys these officer's uniforms?" I asked the demure 20-something women who sleepily watched me browse Mondiana's jammed racks. "Everyone!" they replied. "Newlyweds?" I asked. "Yes, but mostly respectable women," they said, meaning mothers. Although the outfit includes a cloth cap reading POLICE, and army officers do not use handcuffs or wear badges, the girls, who have no English, referred to it as a "military" officer's uniform, easily conflating the two state agencies.

"When I think police or army, I think jail or war," I told the girls; "what's sexy about that?" "Oh no!" they giggled, "this is just for fun." And a very popular item, they added, partly because "it is like the movement in the world," in other words, it is topical, up-to-date.

I recalled a book, jocularly entitled "So You Don't Get Hit on the Back of Your Head" and published in 2008 by a former policeman named Omar Afifi. A guide for surviving police abuse, it outlined the constitutional rights theoretically protecting citizens from illegal arrest, detention and torture. It sold thousands of copies before it was banned and its author was advised to leave the country. Afifi was reportedly working on a sequel, called "So You Don't Get Hit on the Back of Your Head Twice," which under the circumstances could become a best-seller. Egypt's 2011 uprising began, after all, on a joyless national holiday called Police Day.

Since then, thousands have been arrested, beaten and killed, mostly during the violent dispersal of demonstrations by both police and military personnel. Egypt's security apparatus has often flaunted human rights, but never before has its work been conducted with such impunity or so widely advertised in local media.

The large, angry protests that characterized the last few years have markedly abated since Sisi's triumph in the May polls and the subsequent instatement of a law forbidding protests without (essentially unobtainable) permission. By contracting a private security firm to police the nation's university, the state hopes to nip student opposition movements in the bud. More recent laws forbid Egyptians to speak of politics in the workplace. Insulting the Jan. 25, 2011, and June 30, 2013, revolutions has become a punishable offense. Parceling out the meager fund of hope Sisi's election represented, Egyptians are mostly lying low, willing to sacrifice rights in exchange for the state's assurances that "security" is a prelude to prosperity, a familiar yet frayed refrain.

When it became clear that I did not intend to purchase the officer's uniform, the shop-girls grew bored with my questions. "It's just something new," one shrugged, "people like change." Change from what, I wondered? Feathers and sequins, or something else? The meaning of this particular trend may be buried too deep to be penetrable or even interesting to people living one meal and one coitus at a time. It may be down to role-playing and the fetishization of power, but it may also hint at a gathering storm of backlash to the repression of desire -- for sexual and other basic freedoms, for competent, just governance, for jobs and possibilities.

Egyptians can be fickle toward their leaders. Given the daily hardships they must endure -- rampant inflation, failing transport, education and health systems alongside severe power, water and land shortages -- praise for Sisi may be overnight replaced with blame. Lingerie shops may not offer definitive proofs of the public mood, but it is somehow comforting to imagine uniformed ladies authoritatively consorting with men who are happy to have their way with "the police" for once, instead of vice versa.

And it just might be that although the streets are quiet, in the privacy of homes and in the dark of night, Cairo nurtures a veritable hotbed of insurgency.

Maria Golia ( ) is an American author living in Cairo. She wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Dec 29, 2014
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