“It’s not normal for a girl to go out in revealing clothes, the clothes that belong only in the bedroom, then complain about harassment,” said the Egyptian Islamic preacher Abdullah Roshdy, in the midst of a debate about sexual harassment and abuse in Egypt, reopened after a new harassment case. He used traditional religious and social discourse, blaming the victim (the woman) and justifying the perpetrator’s offense (the man).
This time, it is about a young man against whom complaints of harassment and rape have been made on Facebook’s “Sex Abuse Police” page, founded by a group of Egyptian girls, that within hours has attracted 45,000 followers. More than 100 girls have since posted complaints on social media about the student, accusing him of harassing, blackmailing, and threatening them with posting fabricated photographs of them, including a 14-year-old girl who accused him of trying to sexually assault her.
Although the sexual assaults that the girls have spoken about happened in 2018, or earlier, the case started a debate about harassment in Egypt and the arrest of the accused. The Public Prosecution declared the young man’s imprisonment for 15 days pending investigations, accusing him of sexual assault of young women, including a minor. This was based on a single complaint that the prosecution received from a girl who accused him of “threatening her to have sex with him” four years ago. Moreover, he was expelled from his university in Barcelona, where he is studying now, to the background of these accusations.
The action of concerned parties in Egypt was remarkable, and it encouraged many girls to talk about the stories of harassment they were exposed to. The complaints office at the National Council for Women alone received 400 complaints and inquiries only within five days, most of them about violence against women.
Artists and celebrities contributed to the campaign. Actress Hana el-Zahed documented the moment she was harassed by drivers while driving her car in a video she posted on her personal account.
The Egyptian fatwa house statement condemned the harasser, which was considered an unprecedented step. The statement included “linking the abominable offense of harassment to the type and shape of clothing is a false justification issued by those who have wicked souls and ill motives…”
The Case that Broke the Back of the Camel
Although harassment is widespread on the Egyptian streets, as more than 90 percent of women in Egypt have been harassed in various forms, according to UN human rights groups, this case has partially challenged the dominant ideas for two reasons. First, it has eliminated the idea of linking classism to harassment. The prevailing idea is that harassment is widespread among the poorer classes, and absent in the affluent classes. But the recent incident proved the opposite. Ahmed was a student at the American University in Cairo, which proves the harasser could be a member of the higher classes.
The complaints office at the National Council for Women alone received 400 complaints and inquiries only within five days, most of them about violence against women.
On the other hand, the role of social media in the issue was noticeable, as it has become a new safe space for Arab girls to break their silence. A family may force their daughter to stay silent facing abuses and violations, preferring to hide the offense from the surrounding community, which often turns the victim into a criminal. She does not get even with the harasser, who remains free from accountability, and so the woman clashes with a whole social system, which justifies the perpetrator’s actions and accuses the survivors. On the other hand, on social media, women can exercise a margin of freedom, which political, religious and social authorities have deprived them of, even if in a virtual world.
“TikTok” Violates Public Modesty While Harassment Does Not…
Egypt has criminalized sexual harassment in 2014 with a penalty of up to 6 months in prison, increasing to one year if it is repeated, or imposing a fine of 25,000 to 25 million pounds on the harasser. While the rape penalty reaches life imprisonment, or death in some cases, if the victim is a minor, yet this law does not apply to the aggressors, especially if they have influence or immunity.
A Greek press report revealed that Amr Warda, Egyptian national team and Greek Paok FC player, harassed the sports journalist Demi Stamatelia, whom he met accidentally in a shop in Greece, and showered her with messages, which the latter later revealed to everyone.
Warda was not punished, and moreover, he was supported by Egyptian artists, soccer players and twitter activists, although this was not the first incident in which he had been accused; it was only an addition to a series of similar incidents, the latest of which was the leak of a conversation with a girl in 2019. “Warda is very weak facing women, and does not hesitate to flirt with them, whether in person or online”, according to the report.
The irony is that Warda is free despite the charges against him, while Hanin Hussam, Mawaddah al-Adham, Renad Emad, Manar Sami, and other users of “TikTok” app in Egypt, are behind bars, charged with “violating public modesty”.
Therefore, the TikTok space, which the girls used to express themselves freely, away from the stereotypes of social norms, that were found to be easily undermined, was re-selected to expose harassers and raise the issue of sexual abuse, and the bet now is on taking action against the suspect Ahmad Bassam Zaki and his likes.