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

Related articles

Libyan Human Rights Activist Brutally Murdered | Salwa Bugaighis

7534206630_8f1bfbea28_z.jpg

Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 18:15 p.m. DST, 26 June 2014

"LIBYA/" Photo by: BRQ NetworkBENGHAZI, Libya -- The progress in Libya took a hit yesterday, 26 June, when Salwa Bugaighis was shot dead in her home. Bugaighis was a successful lawyer in Libya and she also was a prominent advocate for human rights. She was a vocal opponent of totalitarian rule of Muammar Gaddafi.

Since the ousting of Gaddafi, Bugaighis had played an important role in the process of political transition in Libya. She served on the National Transitional Council, which was an acting political body in Libya in the years after Gaddafi's rule. Bugaighis also oversaw a council to encourage national discussion and synergy. Essentially, Bugaighis was an important and powerful woman helping Libyans to discern their identity in the aftermath of the Gaddafi regime.

She is also credited with bringing greater democratic feelings to the transitional government, and also acting as a tireless advocate for the women of Libya.

The attack took place in the hours after Bugaighis casted her vote in the Libyan national election. After she voted, Bugaighis proudly posted images of her at the general election to social media. Seemingly, the assassination was an attempt to silence her political voice, as well as create a culture of fear in which other people will be afraid to champion human rights and political progress.

Also troubling, Bugaighis' husband has been missing since the assailants stormed the couple's home yesterday. According to reports, the activist's husband was at home with her when the invasion occurred.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

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

Woman Stripped Naked, Beaten by Mob in Tahrir Square

5388980100_3c45fda9ea_z.jpg

Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 07:45 p.m. DST, 11 June 2014

"حسنا" Photo by: Andrea Volpini

CAIRO, Egypt -- The inauguration of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday, 8 June, was a cause for celebration and excitement throughout much of Egypt. But hours after the commencement of al-Sisi's presidency, the festivities turned violent. Several women were sexually assaulted and battered in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo.

Since Sunday, nine men have been arrested in connection to the string of assaults. The mob targeted at least five women, surrounding and sexually assaulting them. The torture proved extremely serious; four of the women were transported to the hospital after the vicious attacks.

The violent crowd of men surrounded a range of women, including one pregnant Egyptian, and a mother who had been enjoying the Tahrir Square scene with her daughter before the mob encircled and violated her.

The criminals moved through the square with relative impunity, stripping one woman completely naked and lacerating her. The attack went on far too long before police were able to separate her from the mob. According to reports, the security officers threatened to discharge their weapons, but no shots were fired.

Today, 11 June, women responded to the series of attacks that followed Sunday's inauguration, gathering in Tahrir Square as a statement of solidarity and resilience. Sexual assault has become commonplace in Tahrir Square, especially during the massive protests in 2011 and 2013 that saw President Mubarak and President Morsi removed from office. Women who demonstrated during this pivotal political time were often silenced through sexual assault, which at the time was not a punishable crime in Egypt.

A study published by the United Nations finds that 9 out of 10 Egyptian women have been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted or raped.

Thursday of last week, 5 June, new legislation was implemented by the provisional government to protect women from sexual assault, and hold perpetrators responsible for the first time in Egyptian history. Advocates of the measure hope that it will curtail the growing problem.

Tahrir Square has become very much a symbol of Egyptian liberty and self-determination, as men and women took to Tahrir Square during instrumental demonstrations in 2011 and 2013, to speak out against governments that did not represent their best interest.

It is my hope that the continuing protests, aimed at promoting gender equality and safeguards for Egypt's women, will be as revolutionary as the demonstrations for political reform in 2011 and 2013.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom