Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks during a symbolic funeral ceremony of Major General Ali al-Lami, who commands the Iraqi Federal Police's Fourth Division, who was killed in Salahuddin, in Baghdad, Iraq October 23, 2019. REUTERS
The two victims in the mass sexual assault and harassment incident that took place on New Year's Eve in the Nile Delta city of Mansura have denied reports that they were dropping charges against the assailants, but that police had arrested the wrong people.
The young women spoke up for the first time since the incident – which was captured in a video that has gone viral online – in phone interviews with Al-Hekaya TV show on Saturday.
The two women – Mai, a senior student at the Faculty of Education, and Zahra, a sophomore Engineering student at Mansura University – shared their accounts of the assault and its aftermath.
Mai, who fled the scene before the video was taken, insisted that they will not be dropping charges against the harassers, and that she is waiting for the police to capture the real culprits. According to Mai, the suspects arrested by police did not commit the crime.
"I can easily identify the real criminals," Mai told TV show host Amr Adib. "Those arrested are just a group of children, the harassers were adults."
Mai says that she called the police at the time of the incident and that they assured her they would be arriving shortly. She also said that she signalled a police car in the area for help but the police ignored her.
Mai also condemned the circulation of the videos showing the incident, saying that they, the victims, have been defamed.
She also said that no women's organisations have reached out to help her or her friend.
Zahra, who can be seen in the viral video, said that as she was on her way to dinner with her friend on New Year's Eve, they were followed by a group of around 30 men.
Zahra said that they were initially sheltered by a mobile shop owner, then by the owner of a beauty salon, both of whom told the girls to leave after a while out of fear that the gathering crowd would damage their establishments.
Zahra said that the police was also unable to rescue them.
According to Zahra, as she was fleeing from the beauty salon with the help of one man, who appears next to her in the video, the group of men started grabbing her clothes and touching her inappropriately.
Zahra said she felt helpless and started to scream, as can be seen in the viral video.
"This is the first time I've ever been sexually assaulted," Zahra told Adib. "I usually hang out on the street where the incident took place, people there know me, and nothing more serious than catcalling ever happened."
When Adib asked Zahra what she thinks about people blaming her for wearing a "revealing outfit," she said that she is free to wear what she wants and that Islam commands men to lower their gaze.
"I have done nothing wrong," Zahra told Adib. "I'm actually glad this happened, because when those harassers get their punishment, girls will be able to wear whatever they want without fear of sexual assault."
The Egyptian prosecution is currently carrying out an investigation into the incident.
Police said on Thursday said that they had arrested 17 young men who were suspected of taking part in the assault. Police also questioned more than 20 shop owners and workers who were in the area where the assault took place.
A 2013 UN Women study reported that 96.5 percent of Egyptian women surveyed had been sexually harassed at some point in their lives.
In 2014, Egypt passed legislation that punishes sexual harassment with at least six months in jail and fines of no less than EGP 3,000 (approx. $190).