Sexual attack on student sparks outrage in Egypt

Assault occurred in Sissi Cairo rally

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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


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