November 22, 2017

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  • Forty-six victims of mob sexual assault in Tahrir Sunday

    Some 46 reported cases of mob sexual harassment in Tahrir Square were reported Sunday by support groups. (Photo by Hassan Ibrahim)

    BY LEYLA DOSS Cairo – During nationwide mass protests Sunday demanding the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi, more than 46 cases of mob sexual assault were reported in Tahrir Square, according to  support initiative Operation Anti-Sexual Assault/Harassment  (Op Anti-SH).

    The recent cases come on the heels of five others which took place in the iconic square during mass protests on Friday.

    Traditionally, when crowds swell, the risk of mob sexual assault increases, but the sheer number of attacks Sunday, sent shock waves among activists, who believe that the numbers may have been even higher but were not reported.

    Jermeen Nasr, a member of Ded El Taharosh initiative, says that her entire team, which was stationed at the Presidential Palace protests, were called back to Tahrir Square for extra support.

    “Some of the victims were raped to the point of bleeding,” says Karim Ossama, one of the volunteers who participated in the intervention team in Op Anti-SH, which helped many of the victims.

    Another group, Tahrir Bodyguard, urged women to stay away from the square when the number of cases escalated.

    Many of the attackers reportedly carried knives and other sharp objects, as well as wooden sticks and batons.

    At least two victims were hospitalised, one currently receiving intensive care treatment.

    Mohammed Khattab from Harassmap, another local anti-harassment initiative, says he witnessed many of the assaults, as well as a case of kidnapping.

    “A woman was shoved into a car which sped off Qasr El Nil [Bridge] towards Talaat Harb Square,” he said. In a written testimony published on his account on Facebook he says that he tried but failed to catch up with it.

    Some activists believe that the majority of cases are politically-motivated to discourage women from protesting, while others see it as part of a greater social epidemic of sexual violence.

    Mobs of 20-30-year-olds, often split into two groups, form a circle around a girl or a group of girls, and then begin to assault them in an airtight pattern.

    “These attacks seem to be organised, as a few minutes before the incident I saw two rows of men holding hands and going towards that area,” says Khattab. “The initial attack seemed like it was going in a spiral manner (more like a Tornado) where the crowd would drag in the woman to the center then kick out the supporters and bystanders.”

    Most attacks take place in the evening or later at night. To make it worse, the mobile phone networks get jammed with increased traffic during huge protests, making it more difficult to report attacks which often happen on side streets and dimly-lit areas.

    Op-Anti SH claims that the areas in-front of Hardee’s, KFC, Bustan, Qasr El Nil Bridge entrance and underground metro entrances are targets.

    According to reports, bystanders who attempted to save the victims were also injured in the process. But it was not uncommon for ordinary citizens to offer their offices, apartments and homes as safe havens for these women.

    In this tense political atmosphere, even such horrendous crimes are used as political bargaining chips between rival groups.

    Enraged by a comment on Twitter by Muslim Brotherhood member Gehad El-Haddad, saying “May Allah protect Egyptian women from such acts” after re-tweeting many of Op Anti-SH’s sexual assault updates, Mariam Kirollos, co-founder of the initiative, made a damning statement on her personal Facebook account.

    “To the Presidency, the groups you keep on sourcing in your statements regarding sexual assaults in Tahrir are basically doing a job that you failed to do,” she wrote. “Stop using crimes of violence against women in your political bargaining, you are part of the reason why this continues to happen.”

    Anti-Morsi protesters, on the other hand, have accused these support initiatives of spreading lies in an attempt to hijack the protests.

    Ded El-Taharosh (Against Sexual-Harassment),  another grassroots initiative, strongly denied on their Facebook page that they are politically- motivated, asserting that these assaults did take place.

    “Our sole purpose as an initiative is to focus on women’s issues, human rights and confronting sexism in society,” the Initiative added in its statement. “We will continue our battle against psychological and physical harassment.”

    Egypt’s Demographic Center, the United Nations and the National Planning Institute, said in a report published last April where hundreds of women were surveyed in Egypt’s 27 provinces, that over 99 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment ranging from verbal harassment to rape.

    Mob attacks have been on the rise over the past eight years, culminating in the harrowing case of CBS news reporter Lara Logan, who was assaulted in Tahrir in the euphoria of Feb. 11, 2011, the day Egypt’s former President Mubarak was ousted following a popular uprising.

    They peaked once more during mass protests on Nov. 23, 2012 and subsequently last January, when 19 women were reportedly assaulted.

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