News / Middle East

Rise in Egypt Sex Attacks Prompts Protests

Rise in Egypt Sex Attacks Prompts Protestsi
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February 12, 2013 6:49 PM
Demonstrations are planned outside Egyptian embassies worldwide Tuesday to protest the recent spike in sexual violence against women in Egypt. VOA's Elizabeth Arrott reports from Cairo.
Elizabeth Arrott
Demonstrations are planned outside Egyptian embassies worldwide Tuesday to protest the recent spike in sexual violence against women in Egypt.

Women have been central to Egypt's revolution, from the uprising two years ago through protests against current President Mohamed Morsi.

They have suffered the dangers of the front lines, but in recent weeks, a growing threat has emerged.

Mob attacks

Mob sexual violence against female protesters skyrocketed in the past month, with at least 19 attacks reported on Cairo's Tahrir Square in one day alone.

Amateur videos and witness accounts describe how women in the crowd are singled out and encircled by a group of men. The men rip off the women's clothes and violate them with hands, sticks, and in at least one case, a blade.

As the attack unfolds, some men pretend to come to the rescue only to join in the assault. Others brandish knives to keep the real rescuers at bay.

Women have rallied in protest, demanding the president investigate and bring those responsible to justice.

Amnesty International has also called on Morsi to act.

The human rights group has long urged Egyptian leaders to address the issue of violence against women in the country, where many women report frequent harassment just going about their lives.  

"When I go in the street and find something hit me or touch my body, what are they thinking about? How could they do that?" asked a female university student.

Scare tactics

The mob attacks of Tahrir have sparked even darker questions and accusations that the violence is not just gender-based, but political.

Nehad Abu al-Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, said the attacks are organized as a way to empty the squares and scare the opposition. 

She calls them "messages to society so that they are scared to express their opinion."

Activists point out there have been no reports of mob attacks at pro-government rallies. 

Political analyst Said Sadek says the practice goes back years.

"This is a culture that thinks that humiliating people sexually will deter them from being active politically," he said. "So this is what is being done, and nobody gets arrested despite the fact that you have videotapes of the people who did it."

Demand for action

While a culture of impunity is not new, the spike in attacks has raised pressure on Morsi and other Islamist leaders to clearly denounce the violence and work to prevent it.

"The people will be pushing for laws to be applied, for laws to be in the parliament to stop these kinds of actions whether sexual harassment, sexual violence or any kind of violence taking place," said Farah Shash, a psychologist who works at the Nadeem Center for Victims of Violence.

An indication of how hard that drive will be came Monday, when Islamist members of Egypt's only legislative branch, the Shura council, blamed the victims for the crime, saying the women had put themselves in danger by going to the protests.

In the meantime, and despite the dangers, many Egyptian women say they remain determined to make their voices heard and will use protests outside Egyptian embassies worldwide to vent their anger.

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Comment Sorting
by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
February 12, 2013 4:01 PM
The molestation of women protesters at Cairo's Tahrir Square is nothing new. The military of Mubarack used the technique to pacify and put shame on the women protesters. The Moslem Brotherhood of President Morsi is using the same technique to discourage women protesters against his rule. The military of Morsi strip naked and beat the men protesting in Tahrir Square, as we all saw in the video in the TV. The human rights violations of Morsi administration is worse than that of Mubarack. At least women and religious minorities enjoyed more freedom under Mubarak than under Morsi.

by: Melissa Brown from: USA
February 12, 2013 2:22 PM
No... couldn't be... rise in rapes... and sex crimes?? in Egypt...? NO!! couldn't be... you see, Egyptians are civilized, enlightened, science based population... of course - they have a slight problem with hygiene... according to their "prime minister"... where dysentery, HIV/AIDS, cholera and even the plague are ever afflicting the squalid Arab population - but other than that - its an enlightened tolerant even Rabbinical Polemical Philosophical society... really... well, they just need more weapons to defend themselves against the starving Black Africans in Darfur...

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