For something to be Haraam it must be prohibited by the Islamic faith, but the term has come to include behavior which is immodest, such as a male approaching a female to whom he is not directly related. Ideally, men and women would not be so audacious as to make eye contact at all. This post is purely my experience, and not meant to make light of Lara Logan and what she went through covering the Egyptian Revolution.
Around Cairo, 99% of the people are respectful, warm and friendly. There are the occasional burps to this, aided by my state of prey due to my cultural background. Young boys and men (say age 12-25) seem to really appreciate calling out to Western women, because we are culturally conditioned to turn around and acknowledge any greeting. This is flirting on the edge, since it is close to haraam to draw our attention this way, as I understand it. They are also the ones who will give a woman the most play, as in behavior that is in the least bit engendered/flirtatious/annoying. . .
The first time I experienced this was at The Citadel, when young high school age boys kept approaching me and saying, “Welcome” “Are you fine?” (I like to think so) and asking if they could take pictures with me. I shrugged this off as boys being goofy. Later, at The Egyptian Museum, a group of college age men followed me around for 20 minutes, whispering. I was slightly more irked by this because: a) what is said to be going on in certain closed off wings of the museum and b) it convinced me my skirt was caught up in my underwear for the whole time.
Today as I waited to cross the road in Maadi, a whole bus-full of young men waiting in traffic started yelling “Welcome!” and “Are you fine?” I have, in the two weeks I’ve been here, learned that this is it – this is the harassment everyone told me to be careful of. A bus load of 20 somethings yelling “Welcome!” and one actually executing a full cartoon-esque wolf whistle. At the time, it was endearing and funny, until a woman in a burqa and gloves (I have now seen fully burqa’d women with and without gloves, so that is an individual choice) sniffed in my direction as I laughed (also a cultural faux pas, now I am an unaccompanied woman engaging flirtatiously with men I don’t know.) She was a sobering reminder that there are drastic differences in domestic freedoms allowed men and women in Islam. I shouldn’t be so disrespectful, or allow others to disrespect me.
She also answered a question I’d been very curious about- if you wear glasses and a burqa, you put the glasses on last, on top of the burqa.