Millions of Egyptians held mass rallies on the first anniversary of former President Mohamed Morsi to protest his rule. As Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the Egyptian revolution in downtown Cairo, began to fill up, anti-sexual harassment groups geared up to stand up to sexual violence against female protesters. Previous mass rallies have been witnessing a rise in mob sexual assaults, particularly in Tahrir Square.
In a press release by Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH), 46 cases of sexual assaults were reported on June 30, the first day of protests. OpAntiSH was established in late 2012 to rescue survivors of mob sexual assaults and provide health response in the wake of increasing reports of violence. OpAntiSH cast the blame on the government for its failure to act on those incidents, accusing the presidency of faking concern of women's rights for achieving political gains. They added:
The increasing seriousness of sexual assaults on female protestors is a reflection of the increasing sexual violence against women in general, perpetrated by both society and the state, which negatively impacts women's participation in the public sphere.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement condemning all parties’ laxity towards sexual violence. “The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork of HRW. They also produced a video entitled “Egypt: Epidemic of Sexual Violence” including testimonies of survivors of the assaults.
In an effort to highlight the systemic use of sexual violence by different regimes; former president Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood, rights groups produced a video entitled “Sexual Torture is systematic: from Mubarak and SCAF to the Muslim Brotherhood”. A joint statement by rights groups reads:
The aim of this sexual torture is not to extract confessions or information, but to humiliate, terrorize and silence voices of dissent. Sexual torture does not discriminate between men and women, the old or the young. It happens in many places, both inside and outside the walls of the prisons and police cells of the country. Sexual torture has even reached the building of the High Court itself, where Ahmed Taha was raped only meters away from the judges that were supposed to protect his rights.
The reports of sexual assaults elicited angry reactions on social media outlets. Activists denounced the silence from the government and political groups on the matter. With increasing political tension, some members and supporters used the reports of the assaults to tarnish the image of Tahrir Square and delegitimize the protesters. The Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El Haddad responded to an invite to go to Tahrir by saying:
@gelhaddad: Its a pity how low #Tahrir square has sunk. 7 cases of gang rape, dozens of sexual harassment incidents & acts of thievery, …
While some activists directly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of sending thugs to harass women to limit their political participation, others disagreed, arguing that the problem goes deeper. Activist Mostafa Bahgat shared a note on Facebook, directing his criticism to both the State and opposition and revolutionary forces [ar]:
لما حصلت حالات الاعتداء و الاغتصاب يوم 25 يناير اللي فات كانت في حملة في كل حته يعني اﻻحزاب” المدنية و اليسارية و القومية” و كمان عليها الصحف و القنوات. عماله تصرخ وتقول الاخوان عاوزين يرهبوا الستات و بيستخدموا نفس اساليب النظام السابق ودية مجموعات منظمة و كلام كله انتوا عارفينة.
ومات الكلام علي كدة
و بالرغم من محاولات كتير من ناس انها تحاول تشرح للمعسكر “بتاعنا ” ان الموضوع اكبر من عصابات منظمة و ان دة بيحصل عادي كل يوم وفي كل حتة ومفيش يوم بيعدي من غير خبر في جرنان عن حادثة اغتصاب وان في اﻻعياد بيحصل كدة.
اللي ان كلهم تعاملوا معانا باعتبرنا مجانين
للاسف كتير منهم بيشوف ان قضايا الستات اصلا مش مهمه و النسوي منهم شوية بيقول مش وقته قضايا الفقراء و النظام الظالم اهم و محتاج تركيز و مش مفيد اننا نشتت نفسنا في قضايا الستات “المهمه” بس فرعية
المشكلة انهم مش شايفين مشاكل الستات اصلا ولو شافوها هيشوفوها اما مصلحه شخصية او مصلحة سياسية
اسف هنفضل في الحال دة لحد ما المعسكر “بتاعنا” يعترف اصلا ان الحوادث دي بتحصل و يعترف ويصرح بيها و يقتنع ان مشاكل الستات في نفس اهمية الخناقة علي السلطة.
When assaults happened on last January 25th, there was a campaign by civilian, leftist and nationalist parties alongside the media crying out that the Muslim Brotherhood want to terrorize women and are using the old regime's tactics by organized mobs. That was the end of it. Many of us tried to explain to ‘our camp’ that the issue is larger than organized mobs and that harassment is a common daily occurrence everywhere; that everyday papers have news of rape incidents; and that it even happen during feasts. They all dealt with us as we are mad.
Why is the situation this shitty on our side?
Many of them see that women issues are unimportant. Those who are slightly feminist say it's not the right time; dealing with poverty and the unjust regime are more important. It's not useful to distract ourselves in ‘important’ yet marginal issues.
The problem is they don't see women problems and if they do it's either for personal or political gain. We're going to remain the same until ‘our camp’ acknowledges that those incidents take place and get convinced that women problems are as important as the power struggle.
Activist Engy Ghozlan reflects on the dilemma of sharing news on sexual violence:
النهاردة 44 حالة إعتداء على فتيات في ميدان التحرير، مع الأسف إحنا بين طرفين، طرف خايف من مواجهة الحوادث دي “حتى لا تشوه قضيته” وطرف بيستغل المواقف دي عشان يعلم على الطرف الأولاني، وفي النهاية في 44 إنسانة (النهاردة بس) الشعب الجميل انتهك أجسادهن الحرة. مفيش ثورة مع إغتصاب مفيش ثورة مع أجساد منتهكه.
44 cases of mob assaults on girls in Tahrir Square today. Unfortunately, we're stuck between two parties. One is afraid of facing the incidents so that their cause is not tarnished. The other take advantage of the situations to defame the other. In the end, the free bodies of 44 human beings today were violated by the beautiful people. There's no revolution with rape. There's no revolution with violated bodies.
There is a growing number of initiatives combating street harassment and assaults such as Tahrir Bodyguards, Imprint Movement and others. Yasmin ElRifae shared her thoughts about being part of those initiatives in a post entitled “No Apologies”:
I am immensely encouraged by the men and women who time and time again have dropped everything to combat these sexual assaults, risking their psychological and physical safety and being creative, resourceful, and intuitive. I have to hope that there are enough people who see the process of social change as multi-faceted, more complex and more difficult than demanding the departure of a president or a government.