Against Assault, Intimidation Women Press On for 'New Egypt'

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Common Dreams

Against Assault, Intimidation Women Press On for 'New Egypt'

Mob attacks women at Egypt anti-sex assault rally

by
Common Dreams staff

Egyptian women have been vocal protesters against the post-Mubarak regime, despite continuing sexual harassment at marches and gatherings. (Photograph: Amel Pain/EPA)

A rally in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday turned violent when a group of men attacked women who had gathered to protest their continued mistreatment in Egypt. The smaller gathering of about fifty women and additional male allies took place amid a larger march against former dictator Hosni Mubarak's prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a candidate in next week's presidential election run-off.

The women gathered to rail against the continued discrimination women continue to face in the post-Mubarak era, and cited the important role many women played in last year's revolution that toppled the man who had ruled Egypt for over thirty years.

"Women activists are at the core of the revolution," said Ahmed Hawary, who attended Friday's protest told The Guardian. "They are the courage of this movement. If you break them, you break the spirit of the revolution."

"Women activists are at the core of the revolution," said Ahmed Hawary, who attended Friday's protest. "They are the courage of this movement. If you break them, you break the spirit of the revolution."

The group of men who attacked the women pushed their way through the crowd, according to reports, overwhelming the male supporters there and molesting several of the women even as they tried to flee.

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Associated Press reports:

A mob of hundreds of men assaulted women holding a march demanding an end to sexual harassment Friday, with the attackers overwhelming the male guardians and groping and molesting several of the female marchers in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

From the ferocity of the assault, some of the victims said it appeared to have been an organized attempt to drive women out of demonstrations and trample on the pro-democracy protest movement.

The attack follows smaller scale assaults on women this week in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year. Thousands have been gathering in the square this week in protests over a variety of issues — mainly over worries that presidential elections this month will secure the continued rule by elements of Mubarak's regime backed by the ruling military.

Earlier in the week, an Associated Press reporter witnessed around 200 men assault a woman who eventually fainted before men trying to help could reach her.

Friday's march was called to demand an end to sexual assaults. Around 50 women participated, surrounded by a larger group of male supporters who joined to hands to form a protective ring around them. The protesters carried posters saying, "The people want to cut the hand of the sexual harasser," and chanted, "The Egyptian girl says it loudly, harassment is barbaric."

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The Guardian adds:

"After what I saw and heard today I am furious at so many things." wrote Sally Zohney, one of the event's organisers on Twitter.

Ahmed Mansour, a 22 year-old male medical student who took part in the march, said: "Some people think it is targeted to make women hate coming here."

During the uprising against Mubarak last year, women said they briefly experienced a "new Egypt". Women participated as activists, protesters, medics and frontline fighters against the security forces. They have continued to play a leading role over the past 15 months. However, assaults on women protesters have been common, mainly perpetrated by men opposed to their presence and the security forces. [...]

In contrast, the small size of Friday's march could reflect the fear felt by women in the square.

Sexual harassment of women, including against those who wear the hijab, is common in Cairo. A 2008 report by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights said two-thirds of women in the country experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis. A string of mass assaults on women in 2006 during Eid, the feast following Ramadan, prompted police to increase patrols.

"Women activists are at the core of the revolution," said Ahmed Hawary, who attended Friday's protest. "They are the courage of this movement. If you break them, you break the spirit of the revolution."

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