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Fighting sexual harassment in Egypt


WOMEN ARE HOUNDED everyday while walking down the street, or even at home where they suffer from harassing phone calls. Sexual harassment is one of the main problems within post revolutionary Egyptian society. Years ago this was a taboo topic, not for men –the stalkers– but for women who were ashamed of making something like that public. The silence was broken after the Arab Spring when a CBS journalist was raped during the protests in Tahrir Square.

When Mubarak got the power in 1981 nothing really changed. And it didn’t so with the elaboration of the new constitution after many demonstrations in 2011, despite the active role of women in the revolution -as in social media as in the streets-. Women were still excluded from the public sphere. However, they weren’t intimidated and kept fighting for their rights. A few weeks before the coup d’etat that toppled Mubarak and established Al-Sisi as president, women taking part in Tamarrud movement (known in the West as Rebel) were collecting signatures with the aim of requesting a referendum.

Little by little the fight against sexual harassment was getting stronger, reaching the big screen in the launch of the movie Cairo 678. Social media was also a very important platform to be heard. ‘Cocoons’ or ‘echo chambers’ were created on Facebook, as well as ‘HarassMap’ and ‘Voice of Egyptian women’. Organizations like International Amnesty and Dignity Without Borders also raised their voice; the last one launched a campaign against “sexual terrorism” where children (boys and girls) were inquired in front of the school about their opinions on sexual harassment.

These answers showed that the country of pharaohs needs a deep social change. Fortunately, a men movement created after the Arab Spring became aware of their sisters, mothers and all Egyptian women situation. Some people already talk about the ‘new Arab man’ that instead of fighting against women achievements in terms of social rights, support them. Men and women fighting shoulder to shoulder has transformed this issue into a real and shared problem by the whole Egyptian society.

Another example of it is the role of social and mass media to spread the image of what many people call “sexual terrorism”. The last public case of sexual harassment took place once again in Tahrir Square during the celebration of Al-Sisi’s victory for the presidential elections. A witness filmed with his phone the sexual aggression of a woman by a group of men. The video went viral, first in social media and later for the rest of the world.

 

A few days later, the elected president visited the victim of the brutal sexual assault at the hospital and this event was publicly condemned for the very first time in the history of Egypt. He gave flowers to the woman and his apologies: “We are sorry, we are not God. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman (…) Our own flesh is being assaulted on the streets and that is unacceptable”, reported on Egyptian Streets

Afterwards, seven men were arrested. Overall, this is not just a case apparently condemned by society: this is an offense, punishable nowadays by law.

 

Words by Andreyna Valera.
Edited and translated by Ana Escaso.
Feature Image: rouelshimi.

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