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Egypt: new briefing details sexual attacks on women in Tahrir Square

Attacks are ‘harrowing reminder of the sexual harassment and assault against women protesters under ousted president Hosni Mubarak’ - Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

Letting perpetrators in Egypt get away with sexual harassment and assault has fuelled violent attacks against women in the vicinity of Tahrir Square in recent months, Amnesty International warned today in a new briefing.

Amnesty has gathered testimony from women recently attacked by mobs - some armed - in and around Tahrir Square, in assaults that in some cases have lasted for more than an hour. Female and male activists who have intervened to rescue women from such attacks have also reported physical and sexual assaults.  

Based on the accounts of survivors and activists it is clear, said Amnesty, that there are identifiable patterns to the mob-led sexual assaults. Women are attacked when out alone, or are separated from friends by a group of men that quickly escalates in number. The women are dragged inside the encircling mob, as hands and sometimes weapons are used to violate their bodies, with men attempting to remove their clothes.

Women’s rights activists and some survivors believe the attacks are aimed at excluding women from public places, silencing them and breaking the spirit of the opposition.

Doctor Rawya Abdel Rahman, a 67-year-old women’s rights activist and grandmother, told Amnesty what happened to her during a women’s march in “25 January” protests: “Tens of hands then came onto me, some touching my thighs … I started screaming …Then five or six men dragged me away from the circle, as someone was trying to lift my clothes up.”

One survivor of a violent sexual assault, Dalia Abdelwahab, told Amnesty: “I will not stay quiet. All women in Egypt need to wake up … Otherwise, such violence will continue.”

Amnesty’s briefing highlights that there is a history to such attacks. In 2005, groups of men were reportedly hired by the Mubarak government to attack women journalists calling for a boycott of a referendum on constitutional reform. To date, nobody has been held to account for these attacks. Meanwhile, in March 2011, 17 women protesters were subjected to “virginity tests” by the military, and last March a military court dismissed the only case brought against the military by one of the women.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said:
“Horrific, violent attacks on women including rape in the vicinity of Tahrir Square demonstrate that it’s now crucial President Morsi takes drastic steps to end this culture of impunity and gender-based discrimination, and for all political leaders to speak out.

“The tactics used by mobs in recent protests is a harrowing reminder of the sexual harassment and assault against women protesters under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

“Women have been a vital part of protests and have sacrificed much in their fight for freedom and social justice. Egyptian authorities need to honour their activism and pull out all stops to address endemic violence against women in all echelons of society.”

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault (OpAntiSH/A), an initiative set up by a number of Egyptian human rights organisations and individuals, received reports of 19 cases of violent attacks against women on 25 January in the vicinity of Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, the group I Saw Harassment intervened in a further five cases. Doctor Madga Adly at the Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, confirmed that in at least two cases blades were used, including on survivors’ genital areas.

Link to the Amnesty briefing:

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