Egypt's first female ship captain accused of 'blocking Suez'

Egypt's first female ship captain falsely accused of 'blocking Suez'
3 min read
05 April, 2021
Egypt's first female ship captain was the topic of a false internet rumour that accused her of blocking the Suez Canal.
Marwa was falsely blamed [Instagram/marwa.elselehdar]
Egypt's first female ship captain was the topic of a false internet rumour that accused her of blocking the Suez Canal.

Marwa Elselehdar was unwittingly put in the middle of controversy after internet trolls doctored a news article that falsely said she was to blame for the ship that blocked the Suez Canal.

Elselehdar, 29, was in the city of Alexandria working as first mate on a ship, when she learned that she had been blamed for the Ever Given container ship that had blocked the Suez Canal last month and caused millions of dollars in economic damages.

Internet trolls had doctored an article published by Arab News on 22 March about her career journet and successful rise – she became the first female ship captain in the male-dominated industry in Egypt.

However, instead of going viral for her accolades, Elselehdar fell victim to sexist and false online rumours, after the original headline was photoshopped to claim she was "involved" in the incident.

Elselehdar slammed it "fake news".

"I was shocked," Elselehdar told the BBC. "I felt that I might be targeted maybe because I’m a successful female in this field or because I’m Egyptian, but I’m not sure."

Fake Twitter accounts made in her name perpetuated the falsehood, despite her not being anywhere near the Suez Canal when it had been blocked.

Elselehdar was the first woman to enrol in the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport – which was traditionally only attended by men. She had received special permission from former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 

She was the only woman in a class of 1,200 men, and after she graduated, she worked for the Egyptian Authority for Maritime Safety on a supply vessel.

In 2015 Marwa became the first Egyptian woman to cross the canal as the captain of a ship.

After learning that she had been targeted online, she was "upset".

"Frankly, when I read the news, I was upset, because I worked really hard to reach the position I have reached, and anyone who works in this field knows how much effort a person has made over the years to reach this rank," Elselehdar said in a video that she posted to her Instagram account.

"One has to spend many years at sea, studying and taking exams before reaching this level."

According to the International Maritime Association, just two percent of seafarers worldwide are women.

"People in our society still don't accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time," she told the BBC.

"But when you do what you love, it is not necessary for you to seek the approval of everyone."

"My message to females who want to be in the maritime field is fight for what you love and not let any negativity to affect you."

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