Egypt: Feminist organizations have documented 101 cases of sexual assault in and around Tahrir Square since June 28, including 26 today. The official response has included involuntary disclosure of a survivor’s personal details by a Ministry of Health official. A military coup is taking place as I write this — tanks are on the streets and control most of the Nile bridges — and given the military’s record of forced virginity tests and attacks on women demonstrators, it is impossible to credit that this will represent any real improvement in security or respect for human dignity.
3 Jul 2013
The undersigned feminist organizations and groups condemn the reactions of the Egyptian authorities, represented in the office of the presidency and the Ministry of Health, towards the violent sexual assaults that took place in the vicinity of Tahrir Square from June 28th 2013 to July 3rd 2013. The recorded incidents of sexual assaults have reached 101 cases of varying intensity.
Feminist organizations, including Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as intervention groups against sexual violence, including Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment and Tahrir Bodyguard, documented 26 incidents of sexual assaults on July 3rd 2013 in the vicinity of Tahrir Square in addition to 46 cases of violent sexual assault and rape in the vicinity of the Square on June 30th 2013.
In addition, 12 cases of sexual assault have been documented in the context of the demonstrations on June 28th 2013 as well as 17 cases in the demonstrations that took place on July 1st 2013. This has brought the toll of incidents of sexual assaults in the context of the 30 June demonstrations to a whopping 101 incidents. This unprecedented level of sexual assaults is not only attributed to the recorded large number of incidents, but also to the severity of the attacks, which have been more brutal than the attacks that took place in January 2013.
The organizations indicated that the sexual attacks that took place in the past few days were preceded by earlier incidents of sexual violence which indicated grim forebodings several months ago. In November 2012, gang rapes were committed amidst disregard from official and unofficial bodies. The severity of attacks increased during the demonstrations that marked the second anniversary of the revolution on January 25th 2013, during which 19 cases of gang rapes and sexual assault were documented in Tahrir Square and its vicinity. The assaults in November 2012 and January 2013 targeted women demonstrators, passersby, and female volunteers in field groups intervening in situations of sexual assault and rape.
The organizations and groups involved deplore the fact that investigations into the documented cases of gang rapes have not taken place. To the contrary, the official reaction, represented in the statements of the Human Rights Committee of the Shura Council (endowed with legislative powers) blamed the women for their presence in the spaces of demonstrations. According to members of the Human Rights Committe, some women are “100 percent" responsible for being raped by being involved “in such circumstances". Statements such as the aforementioned send clear signals that the streets of demonstration are safe spaces for committing the most violent of crimes and enjoying impunity afterwards.
The official response towards the incidents occurred during the June 30 demonstrations was not limited to merely blaming the women, as was the case in January 2013, but reached the level of taking pleasure in the plight of the survivors. A statement, written in English, was issued on Facebook, by the official page of Essam Al-Haddad, Assistant to the President on Foreign Relations and International Cooperation on Saturday June 29th , in which Al-Hadda holds a comparison between the demonstrations supporting Mohammed Morsi in Rabia al-Adawiya district and the demonstrations opposing Morsi in Tahrir Square. Al-Haddad claimed that the Rabia al-Adawiya demonstrations are “significantly larger" than its counterpart in Tahrir, singling out the sexual assault of a non-Egyptian survivor (while ignoring the case of Egyptian survivors) to draw a clear line between the two demonstrations and to conclude that the assaults indicate that the “crowds in Tahrir are out of control". In the same context, the account of Ikhwan Web on Twitter, the official account of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which President Morsi belongs, tweeted that Tahrir “thugs aka ‘revolutionaries’ have sexually assaulted a foreign woman".
A source in the Ministry of Health additionally violated the medical professional code of ethics and the privacy of survivors of sexual assault by making press statements to the Freedom and Justice Party online portal, in which the Ministry revealed personal information of a survivor and information on her medical condition. It is worth noting that the revealed information is personal and private information that should not be announced or shared with others under any circumstances. Such statements are indicative of the state of negligence and unprofessionalism of the Egyptian Ministry of Health.
The undersigned organizations and groups believe that the attempts of the authorities to use the incidents of sexual assault against the women to “smear" the opposition’s demonstrations mark the rock bottom of the official rhetoric of state institutions. The Egyptian authorities have failed to interpret the violent sexual assaults against women in spaces of demonstration as an extension to years of neglecting sexual crimes against women and the usage of these crimes by successive authorities, startin from the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak up to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, to punish women for their presence in the public space. Rather than attempting to find solutions to the crisis of sexual assault, the Egyptian authorities use the assaults as a smearing tool against the opposition, in an attempt to portray them as a group of "thugs".
The undersigned organizations and groups believe that the strategy of using sexual assault to "stigmatize" women demonstrators opposing Mohammed Morsi is irresponsible and will not contribute to eradicating rape and sexual assault. Sexual violence has become a stable feature of the streets of Egypt, and not necessarily associated with large crowded demonstrations. The approach adopted by the Egyptian authorities only contributes to the aggravation of the problem.
The responsibility of protecting peaceful protesters falls on the Egyptian authorities, according to international law. Egyptian authorities are also responsible for investigating incidents of sexual assault and rape, guaranteeing that perpetrators are brought to justice, and providing adequate, effective, prompt, and appropriate remedies, including the rehabilitation of survivors; which entails providing psychological care as well as legal and social services, according to international human rights law. The Egyptian authorities must bear its legal responsibility towards the survivors of sexual violence rather than using the incidents as political tools against the opposition.
Long live the struggle of Egyptian women.
1. Nazra for Feminist Studies.
2. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
3. El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
4. New Woman Foundation.
5. Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment.
6. Tahrir Bodyguard.
7. Women and Memory Forum.