Being a man in Egypt means that sometimes there are no boundaries when it comes to sexual experiences- whether you accept it or not. A lot of the red lines you have imposed on yourself will constantly be erased or crossed by people who will try by all means possible to push you to break your own rules.
Even during “the big night” as some like to call it, on your wedding day, you will have to submit to sexual harassment in order not to cause a fuss at the wedding venue even if you yourself have never been part of “harassing the groom” that does not mean you will not be a target yourself.
This harassment of the groom does not have a specific time slot in the wedding, maybe it will be announced by the DJ or after one friend gestures to the others, then a circle of men will surround you and begin to touch you from behind or all over. Just light touches and it will be repeated by the same person twice or three times. The circle may include as many as 20 men, friends and relatives or even just guests at the wedding who may not be that close to you. You then exit this circle to continue the wedding festivities while laughing- you have to laugh so as not to have any doubts cast on your manhood.
Legend has it that this fluffing ritual will arouse the groom sexually through the night, so this act is the “duty” of the groom’s friends and acquaintances, so you try not to be a jerk and to endure these moments contently, then you return to your bride and definitely don’t tell her what is going on.
A.M. has been married for a year and 3 months, he describes the first moments in which he was pushed into the circle by his friends which surprised him since he had never done that to any of them before: “I thought it would just be idle threats and joking around but I never thought it would actually happen to me, I’ve always disliked this act and was vocal about that among my acquaintances so I was sure they would never do it to me, I tried to stop it at first by glaring at people and pushing some away from me but at that moment everyone had turned into zombies, I would glare and they would just laugh and keep touching me relentlessly”.
Just like in the porn industry, the groom’s male friends act as fluffers throughout the wedding night, keeping their friend aroused all night by encircling him and lightly touching him in the erogenous zones, and ready to “consume” the marriage and prove his manhood.
The “circle of harassment” in traditional Egyptian weddings puts sexuality in its historical context, away from the taboos of Islamic doctrine and colonial interpretation of homosexuality. The circle is only a sexual enhancement or erotic accessory that is not intended to be more than that.
A.M didn’t confront them about it later but he jokingly admonished some of them “Two months after my wedding, I went to the wedding of one of my friends who had harassed me inside that circle, some of them encouraged me to form a new circle “to get revenge” but I backed off with the excuse of wanting to smoke a cigarette and I felt like I didn’t even have the right to reject “taking revenge”. I saw they were laughing at my escape from the wedding hall, and even stranger my friend the groom was surprised that I didn’t step up to do it”.
H.R. who has been married for six months explains more about the act: “Some believe that women don’t know what happens inside that circle but they know. My wife couldn’t accept the whole thing throughout the wedding and was mad at me for putting up with this behaviour, in the end, she didn’t do anything beyond admonishing me because she understood how difficult it would be to ruin the wedding in order to stop harassing me.
But what happened after the wedding ended?
H.R. says “we agreed not to talk about it but when we sat down to watch our wedding video together, the topic arose again and she told me she didn’t want to see who had taken part in that abuse in her home and when we had gone out together, I was also furious and felt like my pride had taken a blow so I agreed with her especially since I had confronted some of my friends about what had happened and that it wasn’t acceptable since I had warned them against doing it before the wedding several times, I don’t participate in it and I don't want anyone doing it to me and I don’t see it as good or even natural. It’s a custom that refuses to die sadly.”
A.K. is a bridegroom who will be married in a few months and thinks that a man accepting this act, diminishes his masculinity and it’s possible to be strict with friends so they don’t do it (meaning the circle of sexual harassment). Why does A.K. think he is capable of putting a stop to this harassment unlike others? “I’m not religious but am known among my friends as being difficult, I don’t accept physical humour or foul language and I refuse to watch porn with my friends even when they start talking in a sexual way about girls they joke with me to put my hands over my ears so I don’t hear them so I don’t think they’ll do it to me”.
And what would he do if he came to be inside that circle? He responds “I would stop it, of course, no matter what even if it came to kicking them out of the wedding in order to maintain my dignity. I told them that this act can only be perceived as sexual harassment and I would not accept it as a joke no matter what they think”.
So some see things as they are, many see the circle of harassment as just some ritual that is not a violation, but at the end of the day, it is a circle of harassment which the bridegroom endures. If he is not happy about it happening and the feeling that he has “taken a blow to his pride” lingers as an incident of harassment, just as women feel if they are sexually harassed notwithstanding the man woman dynamics in harassment which is derived from a patriarchal system abusive to women.