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Africa

Cairo rape video highlights plight of women protesters

© Screengrab of the video posted by OpAntiSH.

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2013-02-04

A video showing an alleged gang rape in Tahrir Square last week has highlighted the ongoing plight of political active female Egyptian protesters. Activists say Islamist thugs seeking to discredit the protests are to blame.

Egyptian activists have released shocking footage purporting to show the gang rape of a woman in Tahrir Square. There were a spate of attacks on female protesters last week, with at least 20 women sexually assaulted.

The images, filmed from a distance, show a frenzied mob seemingly fighting over the victim, although at no point can she be seen. Accompanied by a frank commentary detailing the episode, the clip is unsettling to watch despite its lack of nudity or graphic scenes.

Behind the video lies Operation Anti Sexual Harassment, a grassroots association set up in November 2012 to tackle sexual violence against women. Patrolling the streets, handing out fliers and providing physical and psychosocial help to victims, the group is one of several attempting to fight the prolific sexual harassment of women protesters in Egypt.

'THERE IS A GIRL STUCK INSIDE THIS CIRCLE'

Long a taboo, sexual violence in Egypt finally became a talked-about subject after an increase in public attacks during the 2011 uprising. The wave of violence against women was poignantly highlighted in December 2011 by shocking footage of a young, veiled but shirtless woman being brutally beaten by police. “Blue bra girl,” as she became known, made violence against women an unavoidable post-revolution discussion.

But as last week’s brutal assaults show, open debate about the subject has failed to stop the attacks from happening. Associations like Operation Anti Sexual Harassment or OpAntiSH, say its due to sexual harassment at public rallies is being used to discourage women from attending.

“What is going on is political. Its main aim is the exclusion of women from a public space,” Engy Ghozlan of OpAntiSH explained in an interview posted on YouTube by AhramOnline. “In these recent assaults, the exact same thing keeps happening in exactly the same way. These attacks are organised.

Violent suppression

Ghozlan’s arguments have been echoed by numerous activists and associations and are disputed by few among Egyptian protesters, to such a point that OpAntiSH and similar associations, such as Tahrir Bodyguard, make no attempt whatsoever to bring the assailants to justice. “We don’t punish the attackers or try to arrest them,” Ghozlan said. “It would be too difficult to apprehend them. Our aim is to save the victim.”

According to OpAntiSH, dozens of women were assaulted in and around Tahrir Square last week. The group says it saw 19 victims on January 25 alone. But with little recognition from the authorities, the group’s claims are often dismissed as false. One of the ways activists try to overcome this is by publishing detailed accounts of sexual assault online.

One of those victims, who says she was attacked last November 2012 but decided to speak out only months later, described her feeling of utter helplessness and fear of being crushed to death as a group of men separated her from her friend and inflicted a lengthy ordeal on her. But despite her trauma, the victim also stressed that women must not be put off exercising their right to attend political rallies, and urged girls “not to be frightened, not to hide in [their] homes”.

Her call is one of many, often anonymous, online voices advocating resistance in the face of what they deem to be the violent suppression of women. Popular blogger and revolutionary Zeinobia urged women to repeat the mantra “I will not give up, this is my square, this is my country” in a blog post published on Saturday. But she also admitted to feeling unsafe alone in Tahrir Square after 4 pm. “The police do not care or want to help at all. I have no doubt that policemen do not respect either women or men protesters,” she wrote, perhaps in reference to the brutal beating of a male protester by police the same day

Like many anti-government activists, Zeinobia blames Islamist supporters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood party for the violence. Hosni Mubarak was accused of using the same tactic to discredit his own critics when they took to the streets in 2011. Aware of these accusations, the current government has been quick to rule out the comparison with its predecessor. Last Saturday, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil placed the blame for the violence firmly on the protesters camped out in the square. “Protesters do not torch, attack hotels, rape women, loot shops,” he said. “These are not revolutionaries.”

Date created : 2013-02-03

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