CAIRO — A string of sexual assaults on women during celebrations of Egypt’s presidential inauguration — including a mass attack on a 19-year-old student who was stripped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — prompted outrage Monday, as a video emerged purportedly showing the teenager, bloodied and naked, surrounded by dozens of men.
Seven men were arrested in connection with the assault, and police were investigating 27 other complaints of sexual harassment against women during Sunday’s rallies by tens of thousands of people celebrating Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s inauguration late into the night, security officials said.
Sexual violence has increasingly plagued large gatherings during the past three years of turmoil following the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, and women’s groups complained Monday that tough new laws have been insufficient.
Twenty-nine women’s rights groups released a joint statement accusing the government of failing do enough to address the spiraling outbreak of mob attacks on women. The groups said they had documented more than 250 cases of “mass sexual rape and mass sexual assaults” from November 2012 to January 2014. “Combating that phenomena requires a comprehensive national strategy,” said the statement signed by the women’s groups.
Last week, authorities issued a decree declaring sexual harassment a crime punishable by as much as five years in prison. The decree amended Egypt’s prior laws on abuse that did not criminalize sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offenses as “indecent assault.”
Sexual harassment has been one of Egypt’s enduring social ills, embedded in the country’s patriarchal conservative culture, where women are seen as inferior to men. Movies often portray women as sex objects, leaving them vulnerable to men who feel empowered by the absence of a strong legal deterrent.
Sexual assaults have increased dramatically in ferocity and number in the three years since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster, with Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 uprising, the site of multiple sexual attacks on women amid the large crowds.
In the latest incident, video footage posted on social media purportedly shows the student completely naked amid a crowd of men, parts of her body bloodied, as policemen struggled to escort her out of Tahrir. The video appeared authentic and was consistent with reporting by The Associated Press of the incident.
Seven men were arrested in the attack on the student, who was hospitalized, the officials said. They did not elaborate on her condition and spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Interior Ministry, in charge of police, identified the seven suspects and gave their ages as between 15 and 49. It said they were arrested for “harassing several girls” but made no mention of the student. A policeman was injured while the seven were being arrested, the ministry added.
Authorities investigating other reports of sexual assaults were examining a dozen videos from security cameras or from bystanders who recorded the incidents on their mobile phones, the officials said.
They said the footage suggested organized attacks, with groups of men luring victims away from densely crowded spots before encircling them as they assaulted them. Many brandished knives used to threaten victims or anyone attempting to come to their rescue.?
Under the anti-sexual harassment decree issued last week, those convicted face six months to five years in prison, with the maximum punishment reserved for offenders holding positions of power over their victims, such as when the offender is armed or is the woman’s boss. Repeat offenders would see their sentences doubled, the decree said. Along with the maximum five-year sentence, offenders can be fined as much as 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $714.
The breakdown in security in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mr. Mubarak has left Egypt’s streets even more unsafe for women.egypt - Middle East - Africa - North Africa - Hosni Mubarak - Cairo - Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi