678 is a movie that is set in Egypt yet talks about an issue that affects women globally: sexual harassment.
The opening scene is of a hand making a decorative brass wire figurine of a man and a woman dancing together that finally gets hung in a car, setting the context of nature’s duality before meeting the three main female characters.
Fayza (played by Bushra) is a woman from the working class. Her husband works two jobs to make ends meet for their two children. Fayza wears a hijab and spends her morning layering her clothes, in an attempt to protect herself from sexual harassment intents that she faces the minute she’s on the street, whether it’s verbal from passersby or physical when using public transport (in her case it’s bus number 678).
The second story is of Saba (played by Nelly Kareem), a survivor who dedicates her time to educating women about their right to self-defence by whatever means they have in their hands as the law is unable to protect them. When she asks the attendees to write about their harassment experiences, almost all women refuse to acknowledge it even though they’re attending her class which reflects the social stigma linked to it.
Saba’s experience is shared through a flashback scene. After attending a football game with her husband and while being on the street celebrating with the masses, she’s suddenly pushed away from him and encircled by a large group of men who assault her. The incident affects them both — especially the husband who couldn’t save her — and leads to a bitter separation.
The third story of Nelly (played by Nahed El-Sebai) is based on the true story of Noha Rushdi, the first Egyptian woman to break the taboo and file a sexual harassment case against her attacker. Nelly was crossing the road when a pick-up driver grabbed her from the collar of her shirt, dragging her for a few seconds before dropping her to the ground.
Nelly managed to get up and chase him. Luckily, he was blocked by a car coming from the opposite direction which allowed her to catch and file a complaint against him. Although many hailed her for her bravery — she even had a TV interview where she shared her experience — yet she’s pressured by her family and fiancé to drop the case considering the social stigma and defaming linked to it.
The three main characters’ paths cross many times, especially when violent attacks on random harassers occur and the police are called to investigate led by officer Essam (Maged El-Kedwani).
The movie not only sheds light on the psychological effects of harassment on victims and their families but also the stereotypical misogynistic view of the issue: women cause it to themselves by not being decent or religious enough, which the director refutes by displaying experiences from different social classes who were harassed despite being both.
When released in 2010, the movie was attacked by many — including the Association of Human Rights and Social Justice — claiming that it encourages women to injure their harassers in self-defence instead of reporting the incidents to the police. Moreover, one attorney called for a total ban as it defamed Egypt. Yet the film won prizes in many international film festivals including Dubai Film Festival (Best Actor and Actress) and Chicago International Film Festival (Best Film and Actor). 678 is Mohammed Diab’s first feature film — also written by him — that sends a clear message: women should feel safe in their surroundings and protected by law and society. Highly recommended. Available on Netflix.
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer
and the author of: The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org