(Photo:Ahram Online archive)
At a Monday session of the Shura Council's human rights committee, Muslim Brotherhood deputies asserted that Tahrir Square – Cairo's foremost protest venue – had become "a hotbed" of prostitution, rape and sexual harassment.
According to Brotherhood MP and committee deputy chairman Ezzeddin El-Komi, "as many as 24 incidents of rape have been reported in Tahrir Square in recent days."
"No one has made any effort to fight this disturbing trend," El-Komi added, pointing out that one recent rape victim in Tahrir Square had been a female correspondent for Sky News TV.
He went on to wonder "why local media isn't mentioning this phenomenon after focussing so intently on the protester who was beaten and stripped [by security forces] outside the Presidential Palace last week."
Ahmed El-Khatib, deputy chairman of Alexandria's Appeal Court, agreed, asserting that "anti-government rallies have become fertile ground for incidents of sexual harassment and the proliferation of vice."
"The growing phenomenon of sexual harassment puts the onus on the political forces that are calling for these demonstrations," said El-Khatib. "If these forces aren't strong enough to secure their rallies against acts of rape, they should stop calling for them."
He urged the government to expedite the drafting of a new anti-protest law while toughening penalties against convicted sexual offenders.
Abdel-Fattah Othman, deputy interior minister for public security, meanwhile, confirmed that Tahrir Square had become "the scene of collective rape incidents in recent weeks."
According to Othman, the total number of reported acts of rape in Egypt last year stood at 129, while incidents of sexual harassment reached 9,468 for the same period – with Cairo accounting for the lion's share.
"Police should not be blamed for the proliferation of rape and sexual harassment incidents in Tahrir Square, since protesters there are generally peaceful and only interested in chanting political slogans," said Othman.
Mervat Ebeid, for her part, a female Brotherhood MP, urged women "to think twice" about participating in political demonstrations "so as not to become prey to sexual offenders and armed thugs who commit rape."
However, non-Brotherhood MPs, such as Nabil Azmi, argued that increasing incidents of rape and sexual harassment should not be used as justification for attacking political demonstrations, asking women to refrain from joining them, or issuing draconian anti-protest laws.
"Some MPs are not so concerned with combating rape and sexual harassment as they are with tarnishing the image of anti-regime rallies and scaring women from joining them," argued Azmi.
He added: "I'm afraid that security forces are only concerned with arresting peaceful demonstrators and torturing them rather than rounding up armed thugs who commit rape."
Mona Makram Ebeid, an appointed Coptic member of the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers), told Ahram Online that "by engaging in debates on rape and sexual harassment, Muslim Brotherhood MPs are trying to score political gains by tarnishing the image of democratic protests."
"I'm also afraid that these reactionary forces are trying to impose their code of conduct on women in Egypt, which includes intimidating them from participating in political activity," Ebeid added.
Committee members concluded the debate by recommending the establishment of "fixed places for female demonstrations." Members also rebuked female protesters "who insist on demonstrating with men in unsecure areas."