Egypt’s gang rape: Never accept the normalization of Sexual Harassment

On 8th of June, during the celebrations of Field Marshall Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s inauguration as president, a group of men has sexually assaulted a young woman in Tahrir Sqaure. A video on YouTube, documenting the assault, have went viral. The video shows a young woman sexually assaulted, beaten and stripped. The video is appalling. Well, correction, the incident is beyond appalling.

However, in a one of a kind quick response, the Ministry of Interior has announced that seven have been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting up to four women during celebrations for the inauguration of Egypt’s new President, according to the news site, Egyptian Streets.

The irony is, when an appalling incident takes place, Egyptians express their rage over social media for some time then another issue comes up and attention is diverted. It is no secret that over 90% of Egyptian women were subjected to sexual harassment. According to a report conducted by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3% of Egyptian women have experienced at least on form of sexual harassment. The report asserted that verbal sexual harassment had the second-highest rate experienced by women with 95.5% of women reporting cases. Moreover, 96.5% of surveyed women said that sexual harassment came in the form of touching, which was the most common manifestation of sexual harassment. Egyptians live in constant violation of their bodies. Why public opinion is shocked at each incident? Does anyone remember the girl with the blue bra, or the virginity tests conducted by the military to female protesters?

Finally, a new law criminalizing sexual harassment was adopted on 5th of June, 2014. However, as Harassmap, a volunteer-based initiative, asserted in the article “The Proposed Sexual Harassment Draft Law: Countering sexual harassment?” that “advocacy for a new law on sexual harassment cannot stand alone in a context in which existing laws are not enforced because sexual harassment/assault is not seen as a crime by the society, or even as something wrong”. In other words, due to the social acceptability of the crime, the law will hardly be effective. On real grounds, outside social media there is not any actual societal awareness about the crime. There has been some improvement, for instance last month, a man was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 10,000 LE after he was found guilty of sexually harassing a woman at the Dokki Metro station, as Egyptian Streets reported.

Yet, this is one of the few cases reported. Harassment is usually considered the victim’s fault. This is why many assaulted victims are often embarrassed or discouraged to bring the harasser to justice. “Blame the victim” is embodied in the culture. Mass media endorses this culture.

When you watch a video of Tahrir TV Channel Correspondent reporting that there are cases of sexual harassment but she stressed that they are individual cases (as if that is acceptable), the female anchor Maha Bahnassy responds exclaiming  “they’re just so happy”. The commentator is basically implying that harassment is some sort a way of expressing happiness, and that justifies it.

I can’t help being disgusted by this kind of rhetoric, by that kind of apathy? Or let me rephrase, by the amount of passiveness.

However, I still can’t help but to try to make a difference. Yes, the situation of women in Egypt is still horrific; but since we are living in Egypt, we might as well try to make it a rather habitable place for all of us.

Does expressing outrage on social media through a rather strong rhetoric help any cause? Yes, social media has proved to be very effective in mobilization, but here is a secret; it doesn’t really make a difference, unless you act upon it.

Act on the real ground, try to combat this crime in any way; spread awareness; volunteer; or even apply your preaches on yourself. Never accept harassment, never blame a victim. Never accept the normalization of sexual assault.

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