CAIRO, Egypt — A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year showed that Egypt has been the worst Arab country for women. A swell of gang rapes, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation, and other crimes against women have been on the rise since the Arab Spring.
In President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s continued efforts to combat the high incidence of sexual assaults in Egypt, Wednesday an Egyptian judge convicted nine men of committing sexual assaults. The men, ages 16-49, received extensive sentences ranging from 20-years to life in prison, reported the state-run newspaper al-Ahram.
The Guardian reports that 250 sexual assaults have been documented since the Tahrir riots in 2011, for the first time they resulted in a police investigation and the president visiting with a victim. The arrests of the men were made in response to the country’s new law that more thoroughly defined sexual assault and imposed stricter penalties. As some of the most severe sexual assault sentences the country has seen, it shows the country’s dedication to cracking down on the crime.
Seven of the nine men have been sentenced to life in prison. In addition to sexual assault they were all charged with and of attempted rape, attempted murder and torture, according to Reuters. They also reported that these are the longest sentences for sexual assaults that Egypt has since President Sisi's campaign to criminalize sexual assaults.
As is customary in Egyptian courts, the accused men stood in cages while the verdicts were read to them. Reuters reported that when the verdicts were delivered the convicted men shouted "injustice" as their relatives supposedly attacked journalists. It was also said that a woman involved in one of the case began to cry out of relief upon hearing the verdicts.
Some question if the sentencing was too harsh for the crime. The 16-year-old defendant received a 20-year prison sentence and a 19-year-old defendant received two 20-year terms of imprisonment. A prominent Egyptian activist and lawyer Gamal Eid told Reuters, “This ruling gives a strong message to all harassers that their actions are no longer tolerated or accepted ... But the ruling on the teenagers was a bit harsh and could have been reduced.” But, Nashaat Agha, a lawyer for one of the victims defended the rulings saying, “This verdict is pure justice and the least that those people can get for the crimes they committed.”
The majority of the assaults happened in June during street celebrations of the inauguration of President Sisi. Most other reported assaults also happened at mass celebrations. One of the men sentenced to life received separate charges of attacking women. He assaulted women at only a celebration for the inauguration of President Sisi, and also at a celebration for the anniversary of the overthrow of despotic president Hosni Mubarak in 2011. With the upcoming celebrations for the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, it will test if these convictions can deter sexual assaults.
However, legislating against sexual assaults has yet to transform the public perception of the crime. Dalia Abd el-Hameed, a co-founder of Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, a movement that combats gang sexual assaults believes that the social view of sexual assaults is most important saying to The New York Times, "The most important thing is the social component," she said. "If something is criminalized by law, but society accepts it, it will continue happening."
The government is taking special action to change people's attitude towards sexual assault in addition to the newly adopted laws. It was reported by The Guardian that officials proposed rewarding screenwriters who produce "female-friendly television shows". Also, they reported that a female television presenter was suspended after she mockingly laughed at Tahrir victims when they were brought up by her co-presenter. She defended the attackers saying they were just "happy", according to Reuters.
That being said, the governmental action being taken against sexual offenders in Egypt is confronting their overlooked sexual assault issue. El-Hameed told The New York Times she believed that the sentences are a “good step to end the state of impunity that perpetrators enjoyed.”
- Egyptians get life for sex assaults (edition.cnn.com)
- Nine jailed for Egypt harassment (bbc.co.uk)
- Egypt jails nine men convicted of sexual assault during Sisi inauguration rally (theguardian.com)
- Sexual assault punished in Egypt first time in history - where 99% of women are harassed (themuslimissue.wordpress.com)
- Egypt Sexual Assaults Draw Prison Terms (nytimes.com)