(photo by Evie)
Hey all, so I am using my blog to give what I think is a very important announcement for us as a bellydance community and I will also share some advice for how we as a belly dance community can better deal with abusers. I really hope you read and have a think about.
A Warning To Other Dancers
So, if you read my articles in NADA magazine, you will know that a previous manager I worked with, OVER a year and a half ago, in Egypt: Ramy Abdo, became very violently abusive with me and I found myself in quite a difficult situation. Luckily I managed to get myself out of the situation relatively fast. Unfortunately, I am not the only dancer this has happened to. He has made somewhat of a sport of it. Though I met Ramy in person in Cairo, his general method is to contact dancers (nearly every dancer in the world) on Facebook or social media and charm them into coming to Cairo (via their own finances) to work, promising them lots of (illegal - you need a dance licence to work in Egypt) work playing on their want to fulfill their dance dreams. And yes, he does have a lot of work and contacts in Cairo (who sadly work with him despite knowing his reputation) and he CAN get you amazing work. I worked over 10 months with him without a single problem, and learnt a lot. But despite all this, it came to light that he is violent and aggressive. You can fast find yourself in a very difficult situation working illegally, far from home with a dangerous man, alone. RAMY ABDO IS A DANGEROUS MAN. This is my main message of this article. And since the last time I saw him, OVER A YEAR AGO, he has become more and more and more violent with dancers. This increase has, I feel, been mostly due to the lack of consequences - the problem has snowballed! I want to warn dancers about him. Spread the word: don’t work with him; he is a predator within our community; AND HE IS NOT THE FIRST. Let’s stand as one against him.
Unfortunately, he didn’t like the fact that I picked myself up from the whole situation and have come back STRONGER THAN EVER and continue to work in Cairo!
As a result he has been harassing me regularly; sending me abusive messages, death threats, spreading rumors, telling people not to work with me, telling them we are married, that I am a prostitute, that I still work with him and unfortunately blackmailing me that he will inform my Egyptian family that I am here "dancing" in Cairo. Some of it I find laughable, but a lot is worrying. I am a dancer. People know where my shows are. Think about that for a moment: Imagine how it is, living always slightly worried, that a dangerous man may, at any point do something/anything to you!
Legal Action This constant harassment, combined with the fact that since I stopped working with Ramy I have seen that he has gone out of control and the number of his victims increases on a daily basis, led me to the conclusion that I needed to take legal action. He gets away with a lot because most of the dancers he works with are foreign, and unlike me are dancing illegally. Therefore, going to the authorities puts them in danger of arrest. So, I did this not just for my own sake but FOR THE SAKE OF THE COMMUNITY. I felt I had a responsibility to do something, so despite being worried he may tell my Egyptian family as a result, or that I may aggravate him even more, or that I may be ignored by the authorities I took legal action in Cairo.
A Small Victory I AM HAPPY TO ANNOUNCE after, what for me has been, a stressful few months, I HAVE AN OFFICIAL RESTRAINING ORDER AGAINST RAMY.
Oh yes! Which is why, now, I feel a LOT more comfortable about writing this article. He still does things on social media to annoy me such as post my videos – I can't stop him doing that - but overall I feel a lot safer. I know deep down he was shaken and scared by this action. I hope this restraining order, though only for me, will make all dancers SLIGHTLY safer. Make him tread more carefully. It can't stop him from doing anything to any other woman, so you still need to be careful, but it is a start, a message that he can't get away with everything! It will bring him down from feeling invincible and hopefully stop this rampage he has been on......I hope! Just a side note – I want to highlight just how amazing the Egyptian police have been in my case. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t a picnic BUT considering the circumstances they were very good. I was worried about approaching them as a dancer. I filed the case with my Egyptian identity NOT as a British Citizen so I had no Westerners' privileges in the case. They were actually very practical and efficient about the whole situation. I gave them the evidence of abusive and threatening texts that he had sent me and that was it. The texts were enough. Those alone meant he had acted illegally. It was all dealt with. I know friends in UK who have had abuse cases, far worse than mine, that were nowhere near as efficiently dealt with so I am relieved. Ramy was given a talking to by police officers, sent to court and made to sign an agreement to no longer harass me. A Horrible Response From Some of The Community I did want to share this news on FacebooK but I am choosing to do it here.
Unfortunately, despite putting myself through all this, risking my safety and being shamed in front of my family, for yes myself but also largely for the belly dance community, a community I support to the best of my ability, I have found them, in GENERAL, not the most supportive or sensitive of recipients. On the contrary, individual dancers have been my ROCKS - a lot of my personal friends, who have been with me all the way through all this, are dancers themselves plus of course my AMAZING MUM. A few days ago Ramy posted a video of me, to annoy me. I wrote a Facebook post outing him. The response I had from some other dancers horrified and upset me DEEPLY. I took down my post. So, just in case any other dancer, in the future, wants to come out about Ramy, OR ANYBODY ELSE, abusing women in our dance community, I would like to offer some advice/tips so they are met with a better, more understanding response than I was! How We Can Better Help Dancers in Similar Situations Here are my TIPS ON HOW TO HELP ANYONE WHO MAY BE OUTING AN ABUSIVE PERSON IN OUR COMMUNITY or anyone you may know who has escaped a difficult situation with a predator/abuser.
1) DON’T VICTIM BLAME OR PRESSURE THEM TO COME OUT
First of all don’t force anyone to say anything about their situation. Some women may not want to come out and tell the community – TRUST ME after everything that has happened to me I DON’T BLAME THEM. They may still be in direct danger. They may be being blackmailed. They may be physiologically traumatized. LEAVE THEM ALONE. A woman who has been through any traumatic situation – in or outside of bellydance, does not owe anybody anything. The most important thing IS HER SAFETY and mental health - speaking out can easily jeopardize both! It may not be safe for them to do a Facebook post. GUESS WHAT predators Facebook stalk and they need very little to justify, in their heads, attacking former victims. Other dancers outed Ramy in bellydance groups. I support this. However, in some of the comments other women were shamed for saying nothing, I knew I was one of the women they were talking about: “I don’t know why some dancers that work with him have said nothing” - my response: WOW!! Here I am trying to get through this and STILL IN DANGER and you are making sick guilt messages towards me. It's all so easy for those (SOME HAD NEVER EVEN WORKED WITH RAMY), sitting in safety behind their computer, in a different country, with no Egyptian/Arab family to face, not still in the same industry, to put up these comments.
THE IRONY: is that at the same time as they were shaming me, I had done my best to safely inform the bellydance community. I wrote an article in NADA, I answered messages/questions from any dancer who asked about Ramy, and was in the process of filing a restraining order. All the time knowing Ramy, and dancers working with him, were watching my Facebook. I am glad I said nothing because a dancer with whom he had worked commented and another DANCER (yes a fellow bellydancer) screen shot it and sent it to Ramy. As a result the dancer suffered a lot of online abuse from him for speaking out. Luckily she lives in America BUT what if she, like me, lived and worked in Cairo, going to gigs everyday which EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT?!
Conclusion: You can encourage dancers to come out but DON’T force them AND DON’T SHAME THEM IF THEY DON’T. You know nothing of their situation… which leads me to my next point.
2) DO NOT ASSUME YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED
Gosh, the amount of people who think they know everything about the situation! Ironically they are usually (again) sitting on the couch a million miles away from Cairo – A COUCH EXPERT. Let me tell you something, EVEN AFTER READING THIS ARTICLE, you don’t know even 10% of my story and you know even less about the other dancers he has worked with. You don’t know what the dancer is going through or what she was going through at the time when this happened. You don’t know what pretences they came on – YOU KNOW NOTHING. I know, thinking you know everything, brings YOU comfort to the situation, but it doesn’t help the victims. This is not your story - it is theirs. Also by making assumptions you maybe actually silencing the victim and blinding yourself from the true story. Nothing made me more defensive and less likely to tell my story than responding to a KNOW IT ALL. They don't care about me they care about me, they care about being right.
Summary: Jump to NO CONCLUSIONS – how about instead you create a safe, non judgmental environment, where dancers/victims feel safe enough to share their stories or not share - because that is ok too.
3) DON’T SAY I TOLD YOU SO OR THAT YOU COULD TELL!
The most horrible belittling responses (to my Facebook post- that I quickly took down ) that I received from dancers were comments such as, “Oh I am so glad you saw the light”, “ I knew he was bad – I told you so.” Thank you for PATRONIZING me whilst I am putting myself on the line. Why do that? Do you get some sick ego boost from saying, "I TOLD YOU SO"? Well, well done to you. Someone who actually knows nothing of the situation, being so all powerfully knowing. Even if you did tell someone something do you really need to establish that now? Seriously, you yourself must have some issues if you take pride in saying, "I told you so" to somebody who has recently escaped abuse. Also, the damage you are doing goes beyond upsetting me. If another dancer OR ANYONE in a difficult situation: rape victims, or those in an abusive relationship: see you making such insensitive comments that imply the victim is naive - STUPID - how do you think that affects the likelyhood of them standing up against their abuser or coming out? Your comments affect ALL WOMEN! Several girls contacted me about working with Ramy and despite my advice went ahead anyway. When you give advice the person is not obliged to take it. When they came back to me and said something had happened, my response was: "Are you ok? Are you safe? Do you need help? Is there anything I can do?" NOT, "I told you so!" I don’t even think they are stupid for going ahead. Maybe they contacted other dancers and they said he was ok (which he probably was to them). Or their friend went and was ok. I don't know, but what I do know is something like this could easily happen to ANY OF US – yes even you. In the UK TWO WOMEN EVERY WEEK ARE KILLED BY AN ABUSIVE PARTNER/FORMER PARTNER. Abusers are more common than you think and you can easily fall victim to one.
Nearly as bad as these, "told you so" comments, for the same reasons, were instinct comments such as: “He contacted me but I KNEW he was bad - my instincts told me” Well THANKS, I must be lacking in instincts. I actually sarcastically responded to one of these comments saying exactly that. You know what she told me? "DON’T WORRY YOU WILL LIVE AND LEARN FROM THIS" What? Learn to be PSYCHIC? If I reflect on the time I met Ramy, even now, I wouldn't have done anything differently. I couldn't have known. I took down my post: It seems everyone’s instincts are so good. No need for me to tell anyone about him! Why risk my safety for this ridicule?! …….and please readers don’t patronize me further with: “They only meant well with their comments”: You are talking about commenting on a post from a victim of trauma/abuse - I said clearly he was violent. STOP AND THINK ABOUT EVERY COMMENT YOU MAKE. We are not discussing cat pictures. We're talking about women's lives: consider every word you type and how it is worded. GUESS WHAT? YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE TO LEAVE A COMMENT. Feel free to keep your comments in your head. Click the heart emoji and show some compassion instead!
When you find a woman in a situation like this TURN TO EMPATHY not I TOLD YOU SO!
4) DON’T ACCUSE THEM OF TELLING LIES
This is really one of the worst things. Here I am telling you about the horrible situation I went through and you say I am a liar. THANKS! In the past we have had an abusive, male teacher in the London Bellydance Community: the biggest thing that shocked me was that bellydancers were accusing other women of being liars when they were brave enough to come out. Some nasty people are still claiming those dancers were telling lies, even now. SHAME ON THEM. Seriously, all these women are telling you something and you are ACCUSING THEM OF TELLING LIES! This is truly horrifying. The last thing that a victim wants to hear, when going through such an awful situation, is that they are a liar. Why are you so inclined to trust a man but not a fellow bellydancer – a woman?Is it easier so you can justify still working with that guy? Go ahead keep working with him but don't accuse his victims of being lairs. When women contacted me asking advice about working with Ramy: my response was always along the same lines; I don’t recommend you work with him. I no longer do, be careful. Good luck with whatever you choose to do. Please don't tell Ramy you talked to me. When Ramy puts up a post of me dancing, to annoy and harass me, I would receive accusing posts: “You said you don’t work with him anymore, I chose not to come to Egypt because of you” – WOW thanks! I put myself in danger informing you and then you accuse me of telling lies. Why would I lie? You assume I might be jealous or think I don’t want you coming to Egypt because you are competition??? You would assume all of this of me, as a fellow woman, before you assume that the man is actually the one telling lies and posting fake videos? Wondering why I didn't just change my phone number if he is harassing me? I DID!! Another DANCER gave him my new number. She thought I was telling lies and exaggerating about him. She thought it was harmless giving him my new number, after all he just wanted to talk to me about work! I am not angry with her (she is as much a victim as me - we dancers are all his to make a joke of) I am just so disappointed she thought I was a liar and that doubt, about another dancer, can be SOOOO easily exploited by these types of predatory abusers! It is what makes our bellydance community such a REGULAR target to predators! We would ALL be better off if we thought of each other as ALIES not competition! This is for EVERYTHING belly dance, not just this, support each other, trust each other and look after each other. One of the most horrible things that can happen to a dancer in a difficult situation is to feel they are alone and have got no one to turn to because other dancers are competition and judgmental! It shouldn’t be this way.
Summary: Don't accuse victims of being lairs. If you want to justify continuing to work with the accused abuser, do so in you own mind or realize the reality and tread carefully - if you are not going to support the victim the least you can do is not make her situation worse. Lets end this! Moving On Anyway, I hope you find this article useful and thank you to all the LOVELY dancers that DID/ARE supporting me through this - You know who you are!
And thank you too for all the supportive comments and messages I have received. They genuinely help. Please know I am ok, I REGRET NOTHING: I don't feel sorry for myself in anyway, actually quite the opposite,
I am genuinely feeling the happiest I have in my life. The situation taught me self-compassion and that has made me stronger than ever. Yes, I was a victim of THIS situation but I am not a victim by definition. Don't define me by all this - define HIM - this is a VERY SMALL chapter of my dance story: trust me. If I'm honest on a personal level I AM BORED of the whole thing. It's dragging on and I'm over it. I'm working on soooo many more interesting, amazing projects. Did you see I produced my own Magency and I have co produced two songs which were written about me AND I MADE MUSIC VIDEOS FOR THEM ALL; I run Zameena THIS brilliant bellydance e-zine, which is growing in popularity everyday; I have a new YouTube series in ARABIC; I dance basically everyday to live music on the Nile; I am an international performer and teacher; I host amazing successful online events and haflas; I run a brilliant bellydance shop Zara's Zouk This is what I want to be defined by. I have to pinch myself sometimes: I LOVE MY LIFE AND MY JOB. If you want to help or support ME in anyway, then support the dancer I am now, support my projects, share my videos, visit me in Cairo and come to my shows ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Love and Shimmies, Zara
If you are going to share this article I ask you do so in a way that doesn't draw attention from Ramy to it ... if that is possible