Egypt is becoming synonymous with sexual harassment and rape. Critics say it is far down the official priority list, although vigilante groups are trying to improve safety for women in public places.
Egyptian Human Rights groups say verbal and physical violence against women there is endemic.
Organised campaigns to fight this are building support, as courageous women – and some men – condemn the phenomenon.
A woman described a public setting where a man seated next to her first leaned against her, making her uncomfortable, and then, when she shifted to reduce contact, he began moving his hand all over her body.
“My only thought was to attack him, she said, “but, unfortunately we are used to this; I can not walk in a street without being touched by someone. It has become common, even though it is such a disgusting thing. What can I do?”
The main spokesman of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights recently said that women should not join street protests because their presence incites abuses. The country’s main women’s group denounced his statement as further evidence that women’s rights were being violated.
An activist told us: “This violation is not a new thing. It hasn’t only been going on for the past two weeks. The cases of rape have continued since the eighteen days of the revolution; we have seen many women attacked, men’s hands testing their virginity. There were also attacks on the women’s march one year ago. These shameful acts have become intolerable in the past few weeks. And not only women but men have also been raped.”
An amateur video purports to show a mob attacking a single young woman. Some men from an anti-harassment group tried to help her, one of them using a flaming gas container in desperation.
The sexual assault in Tahrir Square in January, on the day Egyptians commemorated their revolution’s two-year anniversary, was far from the only such act reported.
Activists say attacks during protests are to terrorise women to keep them away, and have found that more than 80 percent of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment.
Our correspondent in Cairo, Mohammed Shaikhibrahim, said: “The ancient Egyptians considered women a source of tender goodness and fertility. They are symbols in their legends. Today, Egypt’s women hope for equality, freedom and respect, and that they will not be preyed on by rapists.”
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