Washington, D.C. – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is profoundly disturbed at recent reports of yet another brutal gang-rape in Tahrir Square, where a woman was attacked during a celebration of the presidential inauguration. TIMEP stands in support of the survivor of the attack and condemns this act of violence to the greatest degree.
This instance is only the most recent in what now appears to be an epidemic of sexual violence in the country. Even more disturbingly, it is also only the most recent example of public gang-like violence against women. This epidemic has endured through multiple regimes, from attacks reported in Tahrir Square in 2011, to the resurgence of sexual violence during 2013 anti-Morsi protests, and until today. Local civil society groups like Op Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault continue to document multiple mass acts of violence per day. Notably, in March a young woman on Cairo University’s campus was assaulted by a mob of male students and then further humiliated by the university president and various television commentators who blamed the young woman’s dress, seemingly weak moral fiber, and alleged poor upbringing.
The ability to be present in public space without fear of harm is a fundamental right accorded to any person. The trend of sexual violence, particularly attacks that are enacted in plain view of the public, is profoundly threatening to a woman’s ability to live in safety and free of threat. Such attacks aim to exclude women from public space and, beyond their inherently brutal nature, undermine the development of an inclusive and democratic society.
Only days before this attack, outgoing president Adly Mansour issued one of his last presidential decrees to criminalize sexual harassment, outlining punishments for any harasser seeking to “achieve an [unsolicited] interest of a sexual nature.” According to the law, any sexual hints via words, signs or acts could carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and fines between 3,000 – 5,000 EGP.
Sunday’s horrific gang rape sadly proves that while the recent laws criminalizing sexual harassment are a small step toward justice, the problem of sexual violence cannot be solved by legislation alone. Civil society organizations and rights activists’ have long called for a more holistic approach; such an approach requires a program that would not only bring perpetrators of sexual crimes to trial, but would address the scourge of sexual violence at its social roots.
It is absolutely unconscionable that any person should live in pervasive terror of sexual aggression. TIMEP calls upon the Egyptian authorities to identify and prosecute all those involved in perpetrating this recent act of violence, as well as any person who participates in such heinous acts, in accordance with Egyptian law and international legal norms. TIMEP further urges the swift implementation of the new sexual harassment laws and the prioritization of a national strategy to address all forms of sexual violence.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.