In a move that has been long forthcoming, Egypt’s top prosecutor, Hesham Barakat, has referred 13 men to trial for the assault and attempted rape of several women, during public rallies in Tahrir Square. Newly elected president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, issued an apology, after visiting one of the assault victims, promising to take tough action against the men who attacked her. In the three years since former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak’s abolition from power, attacks on women have escalated, being publicly witnessed, and even recorded, during rallies in Tahrir Square. The most recent mob attacks came during the celebration of el-Sisi’s presidential inauguration, just last week. The footage from one horrid attack was circulated throughout social media, moving the Egyptian president to spur the writing of laws prosecuting sexual violence, asserting that women will be safe in Tahrir Square. Up until now, Egypt has had no laws in reference to the criminalization of sexual violence. It was not until directly before interim president, Adly Mansour, stepped down, that he decreed sexual harassment a punishable crime, amending the countries current lack of laws on sexual violence. Violators now face prison time of up to five years, although there are harsher sentences set aside for those holding a position of power over their victims.
According to a statement issued Monday, from the Interior Ministry, the attacks were so violent, that several of the officers deployed in the rescues were wounded, themselves. Four out of the five women attacked, were in need of medical attention. The 13 Egyptian men, one of them, reportedly, only 14 years of age, are said to have taken part in three separate instances of sexual assault, including the most recent occurrence, on the day of el-Sisi’s inauguration. They are accused of kidnapping, torturing, and assaulting the women, before attempting to rape and murder them. While there is no date set for the trial yet, the charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Prosecutor Barakat is also said to be investigating the person who recorded, and posted, the video of the attack, stating it was a “violation of public decency.”
Sexual violence activists have expressed concern about whether or not women will ever be safe in Tahrir Square, even with the Egyptian government moving to prosecute harassment. The likelihood of the government following through in upholding the new laws has 32-year-old Ebaa el-Temami, and many others, quite worried. At a time of heightened attention on new officials, many wonder if they will dish out harsher sentences, in the current case, to make it appear as though the state is sincere. Activists say there is a general trend by pro-military factions, to push aside the continuous violence against women, while exalting Egypt’s new president, and former army chief.
The violence that took place during the inauguration has been described, by the National Counsel of Women, as an orchestrated conspiracy against el-Sisi, however other groups dismiss claims that it was part of a political plot against the new Egyptian government. HarassMap is a volunteer-based initiative, aimed at combating sexual violence. Communications Manager, Noora Flinkman, believes that mob violence has been normalized by society, and harassers have been able to do so, with impunity, for far too long. She believes the amendment is a good opportunity to take action in all areas of sexual harassment, both public and private. “We are waiting to see what steps authorities will take,” says Flinkman. In a 2013 United Nations report, over 99 percent of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment, and over 82 percent of females felt unsafe in Egyptian streets. With the decision of the Egyptian government to move forward in prosecuting sexual assault, many hold out hope that women will finally be safe from the violence, not just in Tahrir Square, but all throughout the country of Egypt.
By Melissa A. White-Jantzen