Dozens rally against sexual harassment in Cairo

Zeinab El-Gundy, Mai Shaheen, Saturday 14 Jun 2014

Some voiced their disapproval of the involvement of the National Council for Women in the protest

Demonstration against sexual harassment in front of Cairo Opera House (Photo: Mai Shaheen )

Dozens gathered in front of the Cairo Opera House on Saturday evening to demand an end to sexual harassment.

Attendees, mainly women dressed in black, held banners reading: "time for rape to stop” and “death to the sexual harasser.”

Police were deployed at the edges of the protest – which had received official authorisation to go ahead -- to protect it.

According to an Ahram Online reporter at the scene, a taxi driver was taken away by police after a protester reported that he had verbally harassed her.

Saturday's protest was called for via a Facebook page after a graphic video showing a naked and bruised woman surrounded by a mob of men went viral earlier this week.

The call for protest was supported by a number of women’s rights and anti-sexual violence groups, including Baheya Masr, I Saw Harassment and Harassmap.

Speaking to Ahram Online, Deena El-Shabba, who set up the event by calling for the rally on Facebook, explained that while she is not a member of any of the campaigns, many of the group had coordinated with the event.

El-Shabba said that the organisers had secured authorisation to protest from the interior ministry. Following a law passed in November, organisers of all public demonstrations and gatherings must clear their plans with the authorities prior to the events. A number of activists convicted of violating the law have been given lengthy jail sentences.

"We want to raise awareness about sexual harassment and rape and all forms of sexual violence in Egypt, and we want amendments to the sexual harassment law, and a recognition of ‘rape’ as a different crime from harassment," she told Ahram Online.

"The message is that women are born to be free, and should feel like they're free to walk in public spaces, and express themselves the way they want to and they must be protected by the state and all institutions of the state must work on ensuring their protection, and the ministry of education and culture must also create a plan to fight the ignorance and filthy values we have implanted," she added.

A number of anti-harassment groups had announced that they would no longer participate in the rally after they learnt that the National Council for Women had joined the coordinating team.

The council's leadership has been criticised for its association with its founder, Egypt's former first lady Suzanne Mubarak, whose husband was forced to step down after the 2011 uprising.

"The one who took the permit for the protest is an employee of the National Council for Women ... The sham council is the reason behind the crisis we're currently in. Instead of protesting against it you're joining a protest that the council will later be credited for organising," wrote Rasha Abdullah, a professor at the American University in Cairo, on the event's Facebook page.

Anti-sexual violence group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment also said it would withdraw from the event because of the participation of the council.

"Over the past years the council has only dealt with these assaults through ignoring them, denying them or considering them individual accidents or an orchestration by a certain political faction, which has led to the worsening of the problem," wrote the group on its Facebook page. 

Incidents of mob sexual assaults have become an endemic problem during protests in recent years. Frequent assaults and a general police absence led activists to form anti-harassment groups in an attempt to police public gatherings and prevent assaults.

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