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Video of stripping, assault at rally spurs calls to halt systemic problem

Egypt’s el-Sissi faces furor over ‘sexual terrorism’

AFP-JIJI

A video of a woman being sexually assaulted at inaugural celebrations for Egypt’s new president has thrown another spotlight on a national epidemic, but activists believe that stopping such attacks will be difficult.

Graphic footage, apparently filmed on Sunday using a mobile phone, shows a mob of men surrounding the young woman, who was stripped of her clothes and badly bruised in the assault in Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square.

The video, shared widely on websites including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, triggered outrage in Egypt and abroad.

“Execute them!” said Tuesday’s front-page headline in the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

“Sexual assaults and rapes by mobs are now part of reality. How far will things go? This is sexual terrorism,” said Zeinab Sabet, a prominent activist with “Dignity Without Borders,” a group battling sexual violence.

“This has been happening since 2012 . . . The fact that it happened again (on Sunday) shows that the authorities aren’t even bothered about us,” she said.

Activists say at least nine cases of sexual assault were reported last week as revelers celebrated el-Sissi’s victory at the polls.

One woman was burned by hot water after being stripped in Tahrir Square by three men who later also assaulted her daughter, the prosecutor’s office said, adding the men had been detained.

Officials on Monday said police have also arrested seven men suspected of sexually assaulting women during el-Sissi celebrations.

Egypt, which until this month had no specific law on sexual harassment, last week approved penalties for such offenses to include jail terms, fines or both.

But these amendments “were not enough . . . the state was incapable of addressing such crimes in the absence of a comprehensive strategy,” said a group of 25 Egyptian rights organizations.

On Tuesday, the president’s office said el-Sissi had told Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim to “implement the law firmly” to prevent sexual harassment.

A 2013 U.N. study said more than 99 percent of Egyptian women had been subject to some form of sexual abuse.

Women in the Arab world’s most populous country said they were harassed regardless of whether they wore conservative Islamic attire or Western-style clothing.

Since the revolution that toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the problem has worsened, with women now regularly attacked during rallies by groups of men in and around Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests.

Between November 2012 and June 2013, around 250 cases were reported during protests in Cairo of sexual assault or harassment by mobs, or rapes involving weapons, activists say.

Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday that Egyptian women face “endemic levels” of sexual violence.

It said that “the authorities have taken little action to stop or investigate violence against women, or to bring those responsible to justice.”

Activists doubt that the regime under el-Sissi — who repeatedly reached out to women voters during his election campaign — could prevent such attacks, which are part of a long-standing systemic problem.

“During his campaign, el-Sissi’s comments regarding women’s issues were farcical and vague,” said Fathi Farid from “I Saw Harassment,” a group fighting sexual violence.

Activists believe that for el-Sissi, who has signaled his intention of restoring stability rather than pursuing democratic freedoms, the problem of sexual violence is not a priority.

“I personally don’t think that women’s rights or dealing with mob sexual assaults on women and rape are part of his plans,” Sabet, the activist, said.