CAIRO — Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi apologized Wednesday to the victim of a mass sexual assault that happened in a crowd celebrating his election, declaring in a televised visit to her hospital bed that he urged every soldier, police officer and “chivalrous man” to eradicate such abuse.
“I apologize to you, and as a state, we will not allow this to happen again,” Mr. Sissi said. “I am here to tell you and every Egyptian woman I apologize to all of you.”
Mr. Sissi’s visit and apology, on his third day in office, was orchestrated to convey his determination to combat sexual violence against women. It was a far more forceful expression of personal commitment than was ever made by his predecessors, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose military ouster Mr. Sissi led last year, or Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to resign amid a popular uprising in 2011.
Escalating reports of such assaults in the three years of protests and tumult since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak have outraged many Egyptians, and Mr. Sissi’s apology followed two days of renewed uproar after the release Sunday of an online video showing flashes of a brutal attack on the woman in Tahrir Square.
A former army general and defense minister, Mr. Sissi visited the hospital room flanked by senior military officials in their uniforms and brought a bouquet of red flowers. In a statement, his office said he had formed a ministerial committee including representatives of the relevant branches of government, the Muslim and Christian religious establishment, and “civil society” to “identify the underlying causes behind the proliferation of this phenomenon and delineate a national strategy to address it.”
Meanwhile Wednesday, an Egyptian court sentenced leading activist Alaa Abdel Fattah to 15 years in jail on for violating a protest law and on other charges, his lawyer said, a move that outraged human rights groups.
Abdel Fattah, 33, became a symbol of the 2011 uprising against Mr. Mubarak through his leading role in the protests and on social media. Twenty four other people were also sentenced to 15 years in jail on similar charges.
The ruling came three days after Mr. Sissi was inaugurated as president, nearly a year after he, as army chief, toppled the country's first freely elected leader, Mr. Morsi. Since Mr. Morsi's fall, security forces have killed hundreds of Brotherhood supporters. Rights groups say more than 16,000 people have also been arrested.
They have also rounded up secular activists such as Abdel Fattah, raising concerns that authorities are turning the clock back to the Mubarak era when any form of dissent was risky. The protest law passed last year heightened fears about the future of political freedoms in Egypt. The law, which rights groups say is deeply repressive, gives the Interior Ministry the right to ban any meeting of more than 10 people in a public place.
Abdel Fattah was ordered arrested over accusations that he called protests against provisions in a new constitution that allow civilians to be tried in military courts. He had been out of jail on bail, but was detained following the judge's ruling, according to security sources.
Reuters News Service contributed.egypt - Middle East - Africa - North Africa - Mohamed Morsi - Egypt government - Hosni Mubarak - Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi