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Sexual attacks upon girls, women becomes pandemic in rapidly evolving Egypt

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Rape and sexual assaults among young girls and women has traditionally gone under-reported in Egypt, which adheres to a very conservative mindset about the rights and identities of females. However - in the tumult surrounding the nation's struggles to find a Democratic identity, and with the ouster of its first democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, gang rapes are becoming more increasingly common. Clashes between government forces and Morsi supporters have seemingly taken a front seat over the safety of Egypt's female citizens.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Since the 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak, then the Egyptian president, attacks against women have become an epidemic in Tahrir Square, the site of many of the protests. With the ousting of Morsi, 150 new such cases were reported.

In the attacks, men typically surround the woman, rip off her clothes and then perform manual rape. An outer circle fends off would-be rescuers with sticks, blades and belts.

"They were taking photos of me and laughing," one victim  says. "They pinned me naked to the hood of a car and drove me around."

The alacrity of these attacks imply that they are orchestrated. Some believe they are being carried out by political factions to deter women from protesting while simultaneously discrediting demonstrators. The fact that the assaults occurred under Mubarak, the military, Morsi and the current interim president, Adly Mansour, suggests otherwise, implying the problem goes far deeper.
The attacks also occur outside of a political context. Human rights groups reported similar assaults at a pop concert in the coastal city of Ain Sokhna last May.

"The problem of sexual harassment and assault has been evident for a very long time," Amal Elmohandes, the director of the Women Human Rights Defenders program says. "They took place as far back as 2006 during Eid celebrations, at the metro stations or near the cinemas."

A study by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women released earlier this year reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women have experienced some form of sexual harassment, while 96.5 percent have been subject to harassment in the form of touching.

The number of sexual assaults has increased in post-revolution Egypt as there has been a surge in the number of women present in public spaces, activists say. "As society is more brutalized, people are increasingly expressing themselves through violent actions," Elmohandes says.

The language used to describe the assaults in Egypt reveal just how deeply embedded the problem is.

The word "taharush," which means "harassment" has only been recently adopted in the context of sexual assault in the last decade. "Instead, people used to say 'flirtation' ('mo'aksa'] - they sugar-coated the problem," Mariam Kirollos, a women's rights activist and volunteer with OpAntiSh says.


The use of the term "flirtation" rather than harassment implies a consensual act, and contributes to an already entrenched culture of "blaming the victim," as women are perceived to be somehow complicit.

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