Egyptian women speak out against sexual harassment during protests


Egyptian women activists have denounced sexual harassment directed against female protesters in the country.

Their condemnation comes after human rights organizations sounded the alarm that sexual assaults against women protesters have spiked since Egypt’s wave of unrest late January.

At least 19 female protesters were sexually harassed and violated during the second anniversary of the 25 January revolution in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

According to Amnesty International, the attackers used weapons such as knives against female protesters.

Hanya Muheeb, a victim, was in Tahrir Square on January 25. She recounts the way she was attacked.

“In seconds, there were dozens of people who encircled me, and started quickly to pull me on the side. They violated me physically. I was not embarrassed but I felt humiliated… I continued screaming,” she told Al Arabiya.

Muheeb said she was lucky that her husband is “modern,” and she was not victimized for the second time.

Women are afraid to report of sexual assaults in the Muslim world fearing reprisals from their families. Some women are themselves blamed and others who are married end up being divorced if their husbands find out.

Assaults against women have compelled female activists to form rescue groups to consolidate protection of women who want to participate in protests and take to the streets. But the women rescue groups were targeted too.

“I have tried to save a girl without hurting anyone, but I found out that I was also being violated. Seeing the attackers trying to rip the girl’s clothes, I had to use the electric shock,” one member of the rescue groups said.

Female activists say that the assaults directed against women protesters are not individual cases but are organized attempts to reduce the opposition’s momentum.

“The practice is indoctrinated and not individual and meant to break the protesters’ will,” one female activist said.

On Wednesday, hundreds of people marched through downtown Cairo, including a few dozen women brandishing knives and batons to protest against sexual assaults directed against women.

“This is a political crime. Assaulting women is to spur fear in the opposition, and to evacuate squares from protesters, activists and their families,” another female activist added.

While the Egyptian government has condemned assaults against female protesters, an Egyptian salafi preacher made headlines when he said raping and sexually harassing women protesters in Tahrir Square is justified.

In an online video posted Wednesday, Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, known as “Abu Islam” and owner of the private television channel of “al-Ummah,” said these women are no red line. He continued calling them “devils,” “crusaders,” and “have no shame, no fear.”