Changing Egypt: Sexual Harassment Criminalized

Allyson Cartwright, Contributing JournalistLast Modified: 00:28 a.m. DST, 18 June 2014

Aliya Mehdi - علياء مهدي, Photo by Gigi Ibrahim

CAIRO, Egypt — Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, has approved amendment to sexual harassment laws this month that would make sexual harassment a punishable offense with fines and prison sentences.

This action from Mansour also reflects newly-elected incoming President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi’s stance against sexual harassment. Sisi has recently been vocal about his condemnation of Egypt’s high sexual harassment rates.

According to CNN, the 2013 United Nations report, "Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women", showed that over ninety-nine percent of Egyptian women claim that they have been the victims of some kind of sexual harassment. And The Guardian says that since 2011, there have been over 250 mob sexual attacks at Cairo rallies, according to rights groups.

Mansour’s newly-passed law is a response to international pressure, especially from the US, to reform sexual harassment laws in Egypt. This new law will make sexual harassment a crime with the penalties ranging from fines of at least 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($420) to at least six months of jail time, according to Newsweek.

The law stratifies the severity of different forms of sexual violence, making the more severe have stricter punishments. The baseline definition of sexual harassment the law defines is "implying sexual or obscene gestures, including modern means of communication,” as reported by CNN. This level of harassment is punishable by at least six months in prison, barring any aggravated measure. More severely, CNN says, if the sexual harassment is made with "the intent of receiving sexual gratification from the victim," then the punishment could rise to one year in prison.

Egypt’s soon-to-be President Sisi, however, has come under fire in the past for his treatment of the country’s problems with sexual violence. It was under his leadership as military chief that he defended the Egyptian military’s use of “virginity tests” on female protesters who claim abuse, according to Newsweek.

Despite this, Sisi has recently made strides denouncing sexual harassment when he met publically with a victim, three days after his inauguration. The photocall involved Sisi bringing a bouquet of roses to the hospital bedside of a 19-year-old victim of a mob-related sexual assault, according to CBS News. The victim was at a rally celebrating the election of Sisi when she was stripped and attacked.

When Sisi met with the girl, video showed him standing at her bedside with hospital staff and military aides, as he apologized to the victim. CBS News says that in the video he tells her, "I have come to tell you that I am sorry. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman." He goes on to say, "We as a nation will not allow this to happen again."

Furthermore, Sisi requested that YouTube remove the video of a sexual assault victim from the website on her behalf. The video shows the woman being stripped and dragged through Tahrir Square at a Sisi election rally, according to Newsweek.

The spokesperson for Sisi released a statement on the YouTube request saying, "The Egyptian embassy in Washington DC and a number of Egyptian authorities, at the direction of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, have requested the YouTube administration to remove the video of the sexual assault victim," it continued, "This came in response to her wish, which she expressed during the president's visit to her yesterday at the hospital to check on her condition."

The recent actions by Sisi are promising for the future of Egypt under his presidency. Mozn Hassan, the director of rights group Nazra for Feminist Studies said to The Guardian, "What Sisi did gives a clear message that the government recognizes that this is happening." However, Hassan skeptical of Sisi says, "But the problem is that saying sorry is not the state's responsibility. The state's responsibility is to bring accountability to the people who did it, and to implement a strategic, systematic plan to combat this and eradicate the issue."

Hopefully, with Manour’s criminalization of sexual harassment in addition to Sisi’s public condemnation of the crime, Egypt incidence of the crime will decrease and women’s rights improve. Egypt's National Council for Women seems to be optimistic as they say of the new laws, "(The decision) reflects the keenness of the state and the interest in the protection of women and preservation of their rights."

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

What the Election of Sisi Means for Egypt

Abdul Fattah el-Sisi

Abdul Fattah el-Sisi

CAIRO, Egypt—In a landslide victory, former military chief Abdul Fattah el-Sisi won the 2014 presidential election in Egypt on Thursday. However, his win is sparking concern for Egyptians who question what will become of the country by reinstating military rule.

El-Sisi resigned from his position as the Egyptian military chief earlier this year in order to receive a presidential bid. The state media says that the polls showed Sisi won with ninety-three percent of the vote. Ahram Online reported a victory message was posted on Sisi’s official campaign Facebook page read, "The nation has put itself, with its great people's will, on the beginning of the right track and has stepped firmly and trustingly ... towards the future they've chosen."

The overwhelming support for Sisi in the polls does not necessarily reflect the country’s sentiments, however. It was predicted that there would be a voter turnout of only forty-six percent. Presidential Elections Commission member Tarek Shebi assessed the final voter turnout at forty-eight percent, according to Ahram Online.

Such low numbers of voter turnout, coupled with the high support for Sisi create skepticism for the legitimacy of the election.  It was reported by CNN that officials even added an extra day to vote, Wednesday, to promote voting, but the attempt proved fruitless. This election did not top the 2012 elections with almost fifty-two percent voter turnout, which does not help Sisi prove his legitimacy.

In addition to the skeptical numbers, the election was plagued with accusations of misconduct. The only opposition, Hamdeen Sabahi claims that his campaign representatives were arrested and attacked, according to CNN. Also, they said that Sisi’s campaign representatives were illegally allowed inside polling places. Allegations of forgery were also made.

The criticism of voter fraud and small voter turnout could be explained by voting boycotts from Sisi detractors. It is reported by BBC News that the Islamist group called the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as some liberal and secular activist groups, boycotted voting in the elections. BBC News also reported a senior member of the Brotherhood, Tariq al-Zumar, called the elections a "theatrical play which did not convince anybody".

Those that celebrate Sisi’s victory hope that his presidency will reverse the radical conservatism that the country saw under the previous presidency of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi-supporters see it as defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood whom the ousted Morsi was a member of.

Sisi has had a relentless response to removing the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt. He is responsible for 16,000 detentions and 1,400 executions of Muslim Brotherhood members, according to BBC News. The group has since been declared a terrorist organization and banned from the country.

But, according to the numbers, there are supporters of Sisi. Al Jazeera says that most of his supporters are leftover Mubarak supporters, like former members of the regime and business people. Also, the Coptic Christians.

Despite the surrounding controversy, Hamdeen Sabahi, Sisi’s opposition, admits defeat. CNN reports Sabahi released the official statement conceding that said, "It is time to respect the people's choice and admit my loss."'

Contributing Journalist: @allysoncwright

A Political Façade | Egyptian Military Turns Against The People

ministry-of-defense-clashes-photo-by-jonathan-rashad.jpg

Michael Ransom, Senior CorrespondentLast Modified: 21:35 p.m. DST, 04 April 2014

Egyptian Protesters in Chicago, Photo Courtesy of MoMoNWICAIRO - In Egypt’s chaotic political climate, the most basic freedoms are granted one moment and abolished the next, not unlike the seasonal implementation and suspension of the nation’s Constitution.

The same Society of Muslim Brotherhood members that were freely elected into public office less than three years ago are now the subjects of mass incarceration and capital punishment under President Adly Mansour’s administration. And the vast demonstrations that yielded the nation’s first-ever public presidential election in 2012 are now being smothered by state security. Throughout the country, dissent is met with death.

Free speech, peaceful assembly and media protection are now privileges granted only at the convenience of Mansour and the military agenda that he serves. Diplomacy and debate have succumbed to totalitarian suppression. Following a short flirtation with democratic ideals, Egyptians are now subject to the classic tools of fear mongering.

Recent headlines out of Cairo mark the worst abuses to date. The Mansour ministry is responsible for over a thousand civilian deaths, hundreds of mass incarcerations without cause, the suppression and kidnapping of Al Jazeera reporters, unfair trials, and now new claims that some security agents routinely rape and beat jailed protestors. The international community is demanding transparency in the treatment of Egyptian prisoners.

News organizations within the transcontinental nation are reporting the use of rape and torture to intimidate dissenters. A student with suspected allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood has been in police custody in Nasr since February. Since his capture, he has been beaten, tortured and raped by security agents, according to Al Jazeera. Young men and women are both targets of sexual abuse during detainment. This intolerable police brutality is an instrument used to silence this outspoken demographic. Student populations have become so mobilized in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi’s removal that the government has now issued a ban on protests at universities.

For the young man who was raped and attacked by authorities, allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood could carry a death sentence. Last month, 529 men were collectively charged with the killing of a one policeman. The group was found guilty in a proceeding that lasted only a few hours and offered no physical evidence against the individuals. Most were not afforded a defense team, but the lawyers present were unable to speak on their clients’ behalf. The judge sentenced the group to death. The unconscionable decision will likely be repeated when a group of over 600 alleged Brotherhood members stand trial in the coming weeks. Surely, the judicial action is nothing less than mass murder under the guise of democracy.

Objective observers are hard-pressed to find any evidence that the regional turmoil has spurred even baby-steps towards democracy. The reorganization is better described as a <em>do-si-do</em> maneuver, and while a few dancers retired and some others joined in, generally the Republic has returned to its original position on the international stage. Certainly, the political dance in Egypt has been lethal in the past three years.

Unlike Morsi, Mansour gained the presidential pedestal through the military intervention of Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, who was the Commander-in-Chief of Egypt until late last month. Longstanding poverty and ideological schisms could not be solved instantly, but many Egyptians celebrated the first free presidential election. Amidst fanatical disapproval of Morsi during his short stint in Cairo, el-Sisi issued a warning to the incumbent. The president had but two days to ease tensions and rally his countrymen and women together, or he would be driven out by any means necessary.

Advocates of Morsi and proponents of democracy would both agree that the new elect had already garnered the requisite support of his people just a year prior via the ballot boxes throughout Egypt’s 27 districts. Instead of implementing order in the streets according to his constitutional provisions, el-Sisi opted to suspend the constitution altogether. Since then, the mounting fears of unrest have been self-fulfilling, prompting violence between Egyptian neighbors and colleagues. The violence between clashing ideologies are secondary, however, to the totalitarian government’s crimes against humanity, which continue to concern watchdog groups such as Human Rights Watch.

In the final days of March, el-Sisi resigned from his Commander-in-Chief post and has declared his intention to run for the nation’s highest office in the upcoming 2014 election. El-Sisi’s efforts to separate his name from the current chaos will not go unnoticed. Should he be elected to the presidency in the future, certainly he would understand the fragile and temporary nature of the position. In the meantime, the international community will lobby to protect the Egyptian people and their democratic will.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Senior Correspondent: @MAndrewRansom