Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Egypt's new president visits sex-assault victim

Egyptians protest against sexual harassment as female officers stand guard in Tahrir Square. The president said he was apologizing "to every Egyptian woman."
Egyptians protest against sexual harassment as female officers stand guard in Tahrir Square. The president said he was apologizing "to every Egyptian woman." El Shorouk Newspaper
CAIRO - Bearing red flowers, Egypt's newly sworn-in president on Wednesday apologized in person to a woman who was sexually assaulted by a mob during weekend celebrations marking his inauguration.

Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults have increased dramatically both in frequency and ferocity in the three years since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Activists welcomed the gesture by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi but said it would prove empty if not followed up by concrete steps toward preventing such acts and punishing perpetrators.

State TV showed a visibly moved Sissi visiting the woman in a Cairo hospital.

"I have come to tell you and every Egyptian woman that I am sorry. I am apologizing to every Egyptian woman," Sissi said as he stood by the woman's bed.

Several women were assaulted during Sunday's inaugural festivities in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 revolt that toppled Mubarak, which has also seen numerous mob sexual assaults during demonstrations held there since.

It is highly unusual for any senior official, let alone the president, to offer a public apology.

Sissi has advocated for a greater public role for women and praised their contribution to society and the economy. He pledged in his Sunday inauguration speech to "do everything I can" to ensure that women are fairly represented in the next parliament and in the executive branch.

Azza Kamel, founder of an anti-harassment group, welcomed Sissi's hospital visit but said she and other women's activists were waiting for action.

Others were skeptical, recalling the military's "virginity tests" on a group of women protesters detained in 2011. Sissi, who was the chief of military intelligence at the time, was quoted then as saying the tests were necessary to head off possible allegations that the women were sexually assaulted by soldiers.

Also Wednesday, an Egyptian court convicted a prominent activist from the 2011 uprising of organizing an unauthorized protest and assaulting a policeman, sentencing him to 15 years in prison, in the latest blow to liberal activists at a time of rapidly eroding freedoms.

The sentence against Alaa Abdel-Fattah is the toughest against any of the secular activists behind the 18-day uprising that ended Mubarak's reign. It is also the first conviction of a prominent activist since Sissi took office.

Mona Seif, Abdel-Fattah's sister and one of the organizers of the Nov. 26 protest, said her brother attended the demonstration but denied he had organized it, saying it was called for by a group that campaigns against military trials for civilians.

Hamza Hendawi Associated Press
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected