By ADAM MAKARY
CAIRO - Egypt’s newly elected President Abdel Fattah El Sisi brought roses today to one of the women sexually assaulted during celebrations of his electoral victory and inauguration in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and nine men have been arrested in connection with those attacks. But women rights activists say it is not enough.
In a statement released Tuesday, El Sisi instructed his interior minister “to vigorously enforce the law and take all necessary measures to combat sexual harassment, an unacceptable form of conduct, alien to the best principles of Egyptian culture.”
But the problem of sexual harassment is not alien to daily life in Egypt. In fact, at least four women were assaulted in Tahrir Square during El Sisi’s inauguration on Sunday, according to authorities. Women’s rights group put the number much higher, but don’t have an exact figure.
The outrage over the assaults have been fueled by a video that went viral the same day of an attack on a woman in the square several days earlier on June 5 during a celebration of El Sisi’s election victory.
The two-minute video shows a group of men forming a tight circle around a naked and bruised woman while a police officer struggled to escort the victim to a nearby ambulance.
According to the last statement issued by Egypt’s prosecutor general on Monday, the 42-year-old woman was celebrating with her 6-year old daughter, along with thousands of others who flocked to the square once Sisi was officially named president.
The statement says the woman was stripped naked as attackers grabbed her body parts. She then tripped over a large canister of hot water and this caused severe burns. In the video, the burns are most visible on her buttocks. After hitting the ground, she became the victim of sexual assaults.
Security sources from the Cairo police headquarters say the victim was transferred to a hospital and is in critical condition.
El Sisi visited the woman in the hospital today, bringing her a bouquet of red roses. The video of his visit was shown on state TV today.
Three men have been detained for four days pending further investigation in relation to the incident.
Six other men have been arrested for the assault on a 19-year-old woman in the square during Sunday’s inauguration.
Egypt recently approved a new anti-sexual harassment law that punishes harassers with at least six months in jail or fines of at least 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($420). The recent arrests were made under the new law.
Mostafa Mahmoud, a lawyer with Nazra for Feminist Studies, a Cairo-based women’s rights organization, says the recent amendment approved by the former interim government last week is not enough to combat what has become a growing epidemic.
“Historically speaking, the government has exerted little effort to combating the problem of sexual harassment. The law specifically dealing with that issue has pretty much stayed the same since the 1950s,” he said.
“A more concerted effort from the government is needed, particularly with how they define forms of sexual harassment, rape and assault,” Mahmoud told ABC News.
“For instance, as it stands now Egyptian law defines rape as penetration of the vagina with the penis. But if the victim is penetrated with other objects or body parts, it is not considered rape. It’s considered sexual assault and therefore the attacker is given a lesser penalty.
“Additionally, the privacy of rape or sexual assault victims is not protected, and this contributes to one of the reasons why so many cases are dropped before they reach court,” he said.
“When a victim files a complaint, her personal information can then be procured by the lawyer representing the person being accused. This leaves the accused party free to intimidate the victim who filed the complaint by either visiting her place of residence, or forcing her to accept a bribe in order to keep quiet,” Mahmoud says.
Human rights defenders like Mahmoud believe public outcry resulting from the recent video may produce a sort of uprising for women’s rights in Egypt.
“Before, victims of sexual crimes would only tell their friends and family about what happened to them. Now, they’re coming out in the open and people are really showing how ready they are to fight back against the same patriarchal society that has kept them quiet for years,” he said.
A march has been planned via Facebook for Saturday, June 14 calling on all Egyptians to protest assaults on women has already received over 450,000 views, and so far, over 15,000 people, men and women, have pledged their attendance.