Sexual harassments sow fear in Egyptian streets

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In light of the vast political and social changes shredding through Egypt’s social fabric more attention has been shed on sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo. It is not uncommon for women to report verbal or physical abuse in broad daylight. However, after the Egyptian revolution this aspect has become even more apparent and several NGO’s have reported on the severity of this phenomenon.

At the start of the revolution, Amnesty International reported an incident where women protesting in Tahrir square against the regime were taken by the army and were examined to see the status of their virginity as an excuse to justify and attack the integrity of their judgment.

This of course caused uproar in Egypt and abroad; however, with the fall of the Mubarak’s regime and now two years after the revolution, hostilities against women remain and they have possibly reached even higher levels. Amnesty’s recent report emphasized the growing number of sexual harassment incidents in Tahrir square. Some of these incidents can be classified even as rape.

Other protestors in Tahrir square have even acknowledged that sexual harassment exists in their midst. Not admitting the existence of sexual harassment has only helped fuel violence against women and is hampering efforts to deal with the problem. According to Amnesty International, sexual assaults are widely reported to have a clear pattern of being mob-led in Tahrir square.

“Horrific, violent attacks on women including rape in the vicinity of Tahrir Square demonstrate that it’s now crucial for President Mursi take drastic steps to end this culture of impunity and gender-based discrimination, and for all political leaders to speak out,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

Sexual attacks against women cannot be openly accepted in a conservative society and hence that is why the easiest solution to the problem is to pretend like it does not exist. But the attacks have become too extreme to ignore and the city has witnessed marches denouncing the victimization of women.

On the other hand this trend of violence has been justified by some of the more extreme elements in society such as the Salafists preacher Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah known as “Abu Islam” who said that women protesting in Tahrir square are [‘no red line’][] because they have no shame and want to be raped.

Such statements and trends jeopardize the future of women’s rights to co-exist and flourish in the country and society they helped build.

Despite the sacrifices Egyptian women made standing in the front lines of the revolution and fighting the battle for freedom alongside their countrymen, they are now being marginalized and their freedom is being systematically stifled with a new constitution that undermines their civil rights.

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