Changing Egypt: Nine Men Convicted of Sexual Assaults

anti-sexual harassment anti-police failures demo, press syndicate photo by hossam el- amalawy

anti-sexual harassment anti-police failures demo, press syndicate photo by hossam el- amalawy

CAIRO, Egypt — A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year showed that Egypt has been the worst Arab country for women. A swell of gang rapes, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, and other crimes against women have been on the rise since the Arab Spring.

In President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s continued efforts to combat the high incidence of sexual assaults in Egypt, Wednesday an Egyptian judge convicted nine men of committing sexual assaults. The men, ages 16-49, received extensive sentences ranging from 20-years to life in prison, reported the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.

The Guardian reports that 250 sexual assaults have been documented since the Tahrir riots in 2011, for the first time they resulted in a police investigation and the president visiting with a victim. The arrests of the men were made in response to the country’s new law that more thoroughly defined sexual assault and imposed stricter penalties. As some of the most severe sexual assault sentences the country has seen, it shows the country’s dedication to cracking down on the crime.

Seven of the nine men have been sentenced to life in prison. In addition to sexual assault they were all charged with and of attempted rape, attempted murder and torture, according to Reuters. They also reported that these are the longest sentences for sexual assaults that Egypt has since President Sisi's campaign to criminalize sexual assaults.

As is customary in Egyptian courts, the accused men stood in cages while the verdicts were read to them. Reuters reported that when the verdicts were delivered the convicted men shouted "injustice" as their relatives supposedly attacked journalists. It was also said that a woman involved in one of the case began to cry out of relief upon hearing the verdicts.

Some question if the sentencing was too harsh for the crime. The 16-year-old defendant received a 20-year prison sentence and a 19-year-old defendant received two 20-year terms of imprisonment. A prominent Egyptian activist and lawyer Gamal Eid told Reuters, “This ruling gives a strong message to all harassers that their actions are no longer tolerated or accepted ... But the ruling on the teenagers was a bit harsh and could have been reduced.” But, Nashaat Agha, a lawyer for one of the victims defended the rulings saying, “This verdict is pure justice and the least that those people can get for the crimes they committed.”

The majority of the assaults happened in June during street celebrations of the inauguration of President Sisi. Most other reported assaults also happened at mass celebrations. One of the men sentenced to life received separate charges of attacking women. He assaulted women at only a celebration for the inauguration of President Sisi, and also at a celebration for the anniversary of the overthrow of despotic president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. With the upcoming celebrations for the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, it will test if these convictions can deter sexual assaults.

However, legislating against sexual assaults has yet to transform the public perception of the crime. Dalia Abd el-Hameed, a co-founder of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, a movement that combats gang sexual assaults believes that the social view of sexual assaults is most important saying to The New York Times, "The most important thing is the social component," she said. "If something is criminalized by law, but society accepts it, it will continue happening."

The government is taking special action to change people's attitude towards sexual assault in addition to the newly adopted laws. It was reported by The Guardian that officials proposed rewarding screenwriters who produce "female-friendly television shows". Also, they reported that a female television presenter was suspended after she mockingly laughed at Tahrir victims when they were brought up by her co-presenter. She defended the attackers saying they were just "happy", according to Reuters.

That being said, the governmental action being taken against sexual offenders in Egypt is confronting their overlooked sexual assault issue. El-Hameed told The New York Times she believed that the sentences are a “good step to end the state of impunity that perpetrators enjoyed.”

Follow Allyson on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

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Ramadan: Airplanes, Athletes, and Reality TV

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ACCRA, Ghana -- Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and contemplation, began on June 28th.

Until recently, the concept of this religious event was distant to me as there isn't a large Muslim population in my North Carolina home.  However, since coming to work in Accra, the capital and largest city of Ghana, my interactions with Muslim people has increased.

I work next to a lovely Muslim village full of women in brightly colored Hijabs, and have witnessed demonstrations of peaceful coexistence, when in every conference that I attend, the opening prayer is done by a Christian and the closing prayer given by a Muslim.

Under terms of Ramadan, Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset. This fast means no food and in some cases no water, but it's also a time of restraint for other things, such as personal vices, unkind thoughts, and angry actions.

While I am not partaking of the fast myself, but out of respect me and many non-Muslims choose not to eat in public during Ramadan. Until I restricted my public eating habits, I never realized he availability of food. Vendors in every corner, sales ladies walking through traffic jams balancing baskets of bread or fruit or candy on their heads and selling their wares to people in cars, bicyclers pushing ice-cream carts.... All forbidden during Ramadan.

Even though it clearly requires a great deal of restraint, at least it seems pretty straightforward -- a time of self-sacrifice and re-devotion to Allah, a time to cut out the bad and nurture the good. However, the blessed month can come with some unexpected twists and hurdles.

For instance, while traveling. Technically, the Quran gives a pass to travelers, suggesting they keep up their strength for he journey and make up the missed days later. However, many Muslims continue adhering to as many guidelines as possible.  Timing is important during Ramadan, and a hassle for anyone flying through time zones. There is a time for prayers, a time for fasting, and a time for Suhoor (pre-fasting meal) and Iftar (meal to break the fast.) In places with a heavy Muslim population, there are public announcements or alerts reminding Muslims of the time.

I was caught off guard while watching TV last week when my regularly scheduled programming switched suddenly to play Arabic music and show a passage from the Qur'an. However, those mid-flight have a bit more trouble than those at home watching TV.  Luckily, airlines are usually sympathetic.  Recently, Emirates announced that along with providing traditional Muslim sunrise and sunset meals, with items such as vegetable samosas, dates and baklava, it would also be using a special tool that calculated latitude, longitude and altitude to provide the most accurate possible timing for the ceremonies.

Back on solid ground, athletes may also have problems.  This year, Ramadan coincides with the World Cup, which causes some Muslim players extra difficulties.  On the other hand, the Qur'an does give an exemption to warriors about to go into battle, so perhaps Football is covered in that fine print.  Ramadan's timing may even have affected betting odds on teams, as some suggested teams from Muslim regions might have performance issues.  France, Germany, Belgium, and Algeria all had prominent Muslim players and, in my humble opinion, they all played admirably, fast or no fast.  That may be thanks to a special team of nutritionists FIFA provided to advise the fasting players.

As well as lack of food and hydration fears, disrupted sleep schedules (for nighttime prayers) may result in athletes not being up to par. In the past, some coaches held nighttime practices so the players could be well nourished during practice, so at least the nutrition issue would be solved, if not the disrupted sleep issue. Especially in hotter regions, it isn't uncommon for any Muslim to burn the midnight oil during Ramadan, which unfortunately can lead to an increase in car accidents during the month.

On the other hand, in Brazil sun up to sundown is only 12 hours, so if athletes make sure their sunrise meal is adequate and they start the day hydrated, it shouldn't be a problem.  In the Netherlands, however, Muslims would have to be much hardier, as a day lasts almost 20 hours there this time of year. Australian Muslims have it easiest, with only ten hours of fasting.

Perhaps one of the more bizarre results of the clash of modernity and Ramadan is its recent mingling with Reality TV.  Though not without its share of controversy, as some think the TV personalities don't present the proper air of modesty and good taste representative of the faith.  However, some shows are better than others, and such idiosyncrasies vary from show to show.

For example, one where teens try to recite the longest passage from the Qur'an to win prizes, or shows where gifts of charity are awarded specifically to those less fortunate, to the "ever popular" cooking shows that in this instance, focus on Suhoor and Iftar -- each with the apparent intent of declaring that even the oldest and most sacred traditions can keep pace with changing times.

If you are not partaking in Ramadan, please be considerate to those who are.  Know that employees may need time off and it's not a "holiday" or "vacation" -- it requires dedication, commitment, and adjustment.  Extra attention to charity or one's family life, as well as daily prayers, require a more flexible schedule and understanding colleagues.  If in a Muslim neighborhood or workplace, be discrete in your dress and eating habits. And try to eat an Iftar feast if you get the opportunity.

To our Muslim readers: Ramadan Kareem!

President Obama Hosts Ramadan Iftar Dinner

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:22 PM EDT, 10 August 2012

White House Table Setting, Photo by Luigi CrespoTonight President Barak Obama is hosting his fourth Iftar dinner at the White House to honor Muslims celebrating Ramadan. It is a tradition begun under President Bill Clinton and maintained by President George Bush during his eight-year presidency.

The dinner will be presented in the State Dining Room to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar is universally observed by over one billion Muslims who fast from sunup to sundown.

Ramadan is the third "pillar" or religious obligation of Islam. During this holiday adherents learn self-control through fasting which some describe as an emptying of attachments to the physical and thus empowers their spiritual nature to grow closer to God.  In addition to prayer and study, Muslims also engage in giving charity, purifying behavior, and doing good deeds.

According to the White House, the invited guests for the evening “include elected officials, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths and members of the diplomatic corps.” (Source: CNN)

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Ramadan Kareem 2012 | Post Arab Springs

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:58 AM EDT, 20 July 2012

MIDDLE EAST, ASIA, & AFRICA – Across the globe 1 billion Muslims have begun to celebrate Ramadan 2012 which will start on Friday, the 20th of July and will continue until Saturday, the 18th of August. For the next 30 days, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, sex, and other physical needs from sun up to sundown.

During this time, observant and non-observant Muslims are challenged to reevaluate their lives and make the appropriate adjustments to bring their actions and lifestyle back in line with Islamic teachings. Adherents are commanded to make peace with those who have wronged them or whom they have wronged, resist engaging in bad habits, help the poor, purify their souls and refocus on God.

The holiday occurs amidst numerous conflicts which continue to besiege the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Springs. Most notably: the ongoing civil war in Syria, the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and the death of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of rebel fighters.

Just like the Syrian government remains at odds with its citizens and other nations with the exception of Russia and China; it has also set itself apart by proclaiming that Ramadan will begin on Saturday, 21 July 2012.

Internecine conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims regarding religious interpretation is particularly evident during this holy month. The differences between the two streams are quite complex and historically rooted in the dispute over succession following the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

Thus, “Dar al-Fatwa, the highest religious authority for Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, announced on Thursday that Friday will be the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. While the Higher Islamic Shiite Council declared that the first day of Ramadan will start on Saturday.” (Source: yaLibnan)

Today, the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is an Alawi, which is a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam, announced that Ramadan will begin on Saturday. But, the Syrian National Council which seeks to overthrow the Assad government said that the holy day will be observed starting Friday.

In a grand gesture, Egypt’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi ‘righted wrong doing’ by pardoning 572 pro-democracy activists who were arrested during protests for regime change. While Israeli President Shimon Peres extended a Ramadan Kareem greeting via video to Muslims worldwide. (Watch Here)

During this month of Ramadan, Muslims are challenging themselves personally and communally to continue their commitment to God, to achieving peace, and promoting greater understanding of their faith and culture.

It is incumbent upon the rest of us to meet moderate Muslims half-way if we as a human race ever expect to achieve peaceful coexistence with all people despite country of origin, culture, or religious practices.

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Eid Mubarak 2011 | Happy Ramadan

Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 01:45 AM EDT, 3 August 2011

To all of our Muslim readers we would like to wish you a very Happy Ramadan.  Having just broken the fast with our dear friends from Tunisia, we are privileged to have had the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to diversity and the values of religious tolerance that we espouse.

"Toleration isn't much. But it is the first step towards curiosity, interest, study, understanding, appreciating and finally valuing diversity. If we can get everyone on the first step of tolerance, at least we won't be killing each other." ~ Anon (taken from the Native American Indian Traditional Code of Ethics. Inter-Tribal Times, 1994-OCT)

Eid Mubarak!

"There will be peace on earth when there is peace among the world religions." ~ Hans Kung, Theologian

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Ground Zero Mosque | 1431 Hijri

Ground Zero Mosque | 1431 Hijri

This year observant Muslims will celebrate Ramadan at sunset Tuesday, 10 August 2010 and will continue for 30 days until Thursday, the 9th of September. The Islamic calendar is lunar and each new day begins at sundown of the day before. Although many of the world's one billion Muslims are celebrating Ramadan tonight, here in North America it will begin on Thursday, 12 August 2010. Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month in the Islamic calendar. For the next 30 days, believers will abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn to dusk. For Muslims, Ramadan marks the month during which God, through the angel Gibril (Gabreal), revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad. This in itself is reason enough to write a post; however, I would like to combine this joyous occasion with a brief commentary on the disturbing trend toward xenophobia by the American public and media.

I am speaking about the latest furor surrounding the construction of a New York City cultural center which will also include a mosque which is being erected at the former site of the World Trade Center known as 'Ground Zero.'

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Liddet | Ethiopian Christmas

Liddet | Ethiopian Christmas

January 7, 2010 is the day that Ethiopians will celebrate Christmas. Although there is no direct correlation between a Jewish festival and this date when Ethiopian Christians among others (i.e. Russian, Serb, and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians) celebrate Christmas, I did find a unique minor holiday that reinforced the shared history, Gizret.

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