Egypt’s parliament — the House of Representatives — voted on Sunday in favour of a new legislative amendment toughening penalties on sexual harassment crimes.
Parliament Speaker Hanafy Gebaly said the new bill will be referred to the State Council to be revised in legislative and constitutional terms. “While this bill is a great leap forward, the prosecution-general will make sure that offenders are referred to trial,” said Gebaly.
A report prepared by the House’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee said article 306 of the Penal Code was amended in 2014 to toughen penalties on sexual harassment crimes in terms of imposing a prison sentence of no less than one year in jail and a fine between EGP 10,000 and EGP 20,000.
“But after seven years of implementation, it has become clear that the 2014’s toughening measures were not enough to stem the tide of sexual harassment crimes,” said the report, adding that “as a result and after reviewing a number of laws on sexual harassment crimes in some European and Arab countries, it was decided that article 306 be amended again to impose harsher penalties on sexual harassment crimes.”
Ashraf Rashad, leader of the parliamentary majority party of Mostaqbal Watan (the Nation’s Future), said the amendments are necessary not because the Ministry of Interior was not doing enough to fight sexual harassment crimes in Egypt.
“The amendments are necessary because officials in general are not doing their best to spread awareness of this crime among the public,” said Rashad, accusing MPs and leaders of political parties of not raising public consciousness of the danger of this crime or reporting it to the police.
Rashad, who drafted the amendments, said he hopes that tougher penalties will scare offenders away from committing assault and harassment crimes.
Sahar Talaat Mostafa, a Mostaqbal Watan party MP, said she feels sad when she reads in the foreign media that Egypt comes on top of countries with sexual harassment crimes. “This crime is against the values of the Egyptian people,” she said, adding that “the bill is an important step because it fights the different forms of sexual harassment crimes, particularly those committed on social media.”
MP Mohamed Abdel-Hamid lamented that many Egyptian TV serials and movies played a role in the increased number of sexual harassment and bullying crimes. Abdel-Hamid, however, angered female MPs when he argued that the behaviour of some women also helps increase sexual harassment crimes.
In response, MP Farida El-Shobashi said “those who believe that women are to blame for the increase in sexual harassment crimes are psychologically ill.” El-Shobashi recalled that Egyptian women were at the forefront of the 30 June revolution which led to the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood from office.
Soliman Wahdan, the leader of the parliamentary group of Al-Wafd party MPs, deplored that Egypt has witnessed a marked increase in the number of assault and sexual harassment crimes in recent years. “I hope the new law and tougher penalties will help eliminate this crime, but it also depends on the media raising awareness of the bad impact of this crime on society,” said Wahdan.
The bill, approved by the House’s Legislative and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 27 June, aims to amend Article 306 (paragraphs A & B) of the 1937 Penal Code.
The amended Article 306 (Paragraph A) states that “whoever is convicted of assaulting others in public or private places in the form of sexual or pornographic gestures and insinuations, either in words or actions or virtually, will be sentenced to a prison term ranging from two to four years and a fine ranging from EGP 100,000 to EGP 200,000.
The article also states that whoever is found guilty of repeating the crime in terms of chasing and tracking victims will be sentenced to a prison term ranging from three to five years and a fine from EGP 200,000 to EGP 300,000.
The amended Article 306 (Paragraph B) stipulates an amendment to the Penal Code’s Article 267, setting out that offenders whose circumstances allow them to have a professional, familial, or academic authority over a victim, or otherwise exercise any kind of pressure to allow them to commit their crime, will be sentenced to a prison term no less than seven years and a fine between EGP 300,000 and EGP 500,000. The same penalty will be imposed if the sexual harassment crime was committed by two persons or more and one of them was holding a weapon.