Egypt faces tough battle against sexual violence

World Today

A video of a woman being brutally sexually assaulted in Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square marred this week’s inauguration celebrations for President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, outraged netizens and raised questions about the country’s commitment to fighting widespread sexual violence.

The graphic video, posted on Youtube on Sunday and shared widely on social networking sites, showed a badly injured naked woman being dragged through a large crowd to an ambulance. The footage triggered outrage in Egypt and abroad.

Egypt’s new President Sisi on Tuesday ordered his interior minister to take all necessary measures to combat sexual harassment, describing sexual harassment as a phenomena “alien” to Egypt.

The 59-year-old former army chief, who spoke highly of women’s role in Egypt’s political life during his campaigning, called for the restoration of the “real and moral” values of the country’s streets.

Sisi has enjoyed a huge popularity across Egypt after the military ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi last July. Many Egyptians, especially female voters, have supported his bid to restore stability to Egypt. The field marshal won a landslide victory in the late May presidential elections.

But even celebrations for Sisi were not free from sexual assaults. Authorities say at least nine cases of sexual assault were reported during last week’s celebrations at the square.

Sexual attacks have been rampant in large crowds that frequently gathered for protests at Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 popular protests that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.

“Because of security negligence, sexual violence targeting bystanders, activists and even foreign journalists was uncontrollable during mass protests or celebrations,” said Dina Farid, a prominent activist with “Egypt’s Girls are Red Line,” a group campaigning against sexual violence.

Despite repeated sexual attacks during demonstrations, the Interior Ministry has not taken enough measures to secure public spaces for women, said Ahmed Fathy, an activist with “You Saw Harassment” initiative.

“The authorities have taken little action to stop or investigate violence against women or to bring those responsible to justice,” Fathy added.

Twenty-nine women rights groups have released a joint statement accusing the government of failing to address the mob attacks on women. They estimated that more than 250 cases of “mass sexual rape and mass sexual assaults” emerged from November 2012 to January 2014. The statement called for “a comprehensive national strategy to stop the violence.”

Official news agency MENA reported that Sisi apologized to a victim of a mass sexual assault when visiting the military hospital to check on her health and show support for her on Wednesday morning. He also urged for a decisive implementation of a new law that has for the first time made sexual harassment a crime.

Egypt issued the law last week, which punishes sexual harassers with at least six months and up to five years in jail, or fines of at least 3,000 Egyptian pounds (about 420 U.S. dollars). But critics said the new law is incomplete and lacks significant jurisdictions. “We have plenty of laws but fail to implement on the ground,” said Abdel Rahem Sedqy, a professor of criminal law at the Cairo University.

Sedqy suggested that the authorities give professional training for the police specializing in sexual crimes, help victims with procedures, and hold secret trials to preserve the reputation of women in Egypt’s conservative culture.

“We can’t reduce this phenomenon only by laws,” he said. ” Security instability, unemployment and social ills like drugs and late marriage should be also addressed immediately.”

Sikina Fouad, a female advisor for former interim President Adly Mansour, believes that raising women’s social positions was one of the important ways to avoid such criminal cases.

“Their roles shouldn’t only be stressed in the elections, but also in decision-making posts,” she added.