Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1135, 14 - 20 February

Ahram Weekly

Crimes of intimidation

Islamist MPs accuse the media of drawing a veil over sexual harassment, Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

During an 11 February meeting of the Shura Council’s Human Rights Committee, Muslim Brotherhood deputies claimed that Tahrir Square — birthplace of the 25 January Revolution — was “a hotbed of prostitution, rape and sexual harassment”.

The committee’s deputy chairman, Muslim Brotherhood MP Ezzeddin Al-Komi, said, “as many as 24 incidents of rape have been reported in Tahrir Square in recent days.”

“No one has moved to contain this worrying phenomenon,” he said, adding that “one recent victim in Tahrir Square was a female correspondent for Sky News.”

He accused local media of “downplaying this disturbing phenomenon by focussing on police brutality,” and said that “the local media has only been interested in focussing on the protester who was beaten and stripped by security forces outside Al-Ittihadiya presidential palace last week.”

Ahmed Al-Khatib, deputy chairman of Alexandria’s Appeals Court, agreed, insisting that “anti-government protests have become a fertile ground for sexual harassment and the proliferation of vice.”

“The growth of sexual harassment puts the onus on the political forces that are issuing these calls for demonstrations and public rallies,” argued Al-Khatib. “To these forces, I say if you are not strong enough to secure protests and rallies against such acts then please stop calling for demonstrations.”

Al-Khatib urged the government to speed up the drafting of a new anti-protest law and toughen penalties for sexual offences.

“The majority of those convicted of rape are teenagers and adolescents. They come from poor districts and do not have any hope that they will marry one day and start a family,” Al-Khatib claimed.

Abdel-Fattah Othman, deputy interior minister, agreed with Islamist MPs that “Tahrir Square has become the scene of collective rape incidents in recent weeks.”

According to Othman, 129 rape incidents were reported last year, together with 9,468 incidents of sexual harassment. Cairo accounted for the lion’s share.

“Police forces should not be blamed for the proliferation of rape and sexual harassment.”

Mervat Ebeid, a female Muslim Brotherhood MP, urged women not to wear revealing clothes and to think twice about participating in political rallies “so as not to become prey to sexual offenders and armed thugs who commit rape crimes.”

Non-Brotherhood MPs such as Nabil Azmi argued that “increasing incidents of rape and sexual harassment should not be used to justify placing restrictions on political demonstrations or to issue repressive anti-protest laws.”

“Some MPs are less concerned with fighting sexual harassment than with tarnishing the image of anti-regime rallies and intimidating women not to participate in them,” said Azmi. “I’m afraid the security forces are more concerned with arresting peaceful demonstrators and torturing them than rounding up armed thugs who rape.”

Mona Makram Ebeid, a political science professor and appointed Coptic member of the Shura Council, accused Brotherhood MPs of trying to score political points by “stirring up debates on rape and sexual harassment and tarnishing the image of democratic protests.

“I am also afraid these reactionary forces are trying to impose their codes of conduct on women in Egypt, including frightening them from participating in political activities,” said Ebeid. “We need to remember that they did their best to draft the new election law in a way that prevents political parties from placing women at the top of candidate lists in the upcoming parliamentary polls.”

At the end of the debate the committee recommended that there should be dedicated sites for female demonstrations. Members also rebuked women who insist on demonstrating with men in insecure places.

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