Feb. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Sexual assaults on Egyptian female protesters have been led by organized gangs, the head of a government-backed women’s rights panel said, in what appears to be the first such acknowledgment by officials relating to crimes that have gained increasing prominence.
“There are organized gangs who commit sexual harassment during protests with the aim of scaring women and orienting them away from political participation,” Mervat Tallawy, head of state-run National Council for Women, said today in a press conference in Cairo. “Some of these cases amount to rape,” she said, referring to reported cases of women protesters being assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focus of anti-government demonstrations.
Tallawy decried the marginalization of women in Egypt and the increase in violence against female protesters, blaming Islamic groups and political parties for “demeaning’ women in their public statements since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Numerous cases of assault and rape were reported during rallies marking the second anniversary of the revolt.
“All regulations since the revolution have undermined women’s rights,” said Tallawy. “Now is the time we stand united, men and women, to end sexual harassment”
A Salafi preacher, Ahmad Mahmoud Abdullah, known as “Abu Islam,” posted an online video on Feb. 6 in which he said most female demonstrators “are crusaders,” and go to Tahrir because they want to be raped. “Those women have no shame, no fear and not even femininity,” he said. “They are devils.”
Maysara, the preacher’s son and the managing director of the Al-Ummah Islamic television channel, at which Abu Islam works, said his father meant that the women who still go to Tahrir after all the reported cases of assault do so knowing the risks. “There are drugs, sexual harassment and adultery in Tahrir square, then why are those women going?” he said by phone today. “My sister or wife would never approach such a place.”
The council will within days conclude drafting a law to toughen penalties for sexual harassment crimes, said Talawy. “This culture of mocking women’s complaints against sexual harassment and rape needs to change,” she said in comments aired on the Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr satellite television channel. “The rapists are to be ashamed, not the female victims.”
Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, an initiative set up by Egyptian human rights organizations and individuals, counted at least 19 cases of violent attacks against women during protests marking the two-year anniversary of the revolution, according to their official Facebook page. In one of these cases, a mob raped a young woman using a penknife, severely injuring her.
“Horrific, violent attacks on women including rape in the vicinity of Tahrir Square demonstrate that it’s now crucial President Morsi takes drastic steps to end this culture of impunity and gender-based discrimination, and for all political leaders to speak out,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, in a statement published on the group’s website on Feb. 6.
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