Following the mass sexual assault of a woman in Egypt’s crowded Tahir Square during his inaugural celebration on Sunday, newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi apologized to the victim personally and took a stand. Sisi visited the unnamed woman in the hospital this week, with cameras in tow, and sent a message that sexual assaults will not be tolerated under his leadership. The woman’s attack gained international attention after it was filmed and posted to YouTube.
“I apologize to you, and as a state, we will not allow this to happen again,” Mr. Sisi said. “I am here to tell you and every Egyptian woman I apologize to all of you.”
The number of sexual assault claims in Egypt, especially in crowded places, has risen in the last several years amid the country’s uprisings and tumultuous leadership changes. Some, according to the NY Times, say the rise stems from the unraveling of the country's police force during the tenure of previous leaders Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who Sisi helped to oust in 2013, and Hosni Mubarak, who resigned and was promptly arrested in 2011.
Last week, the outgoing interim Egyptian president Adly Mansour made sexual harassment a crime punishable with up to five years behind bars or a fine between $400-7,000. According to Al Jazeera, this announcement amended the current law, which did not criminalize sexual harassment, instead calling it “indecent assault.” In addition, a two-year minimum jail term was introduced for offenders who hold a position of power over their victim, in uniform or is armed with a weapon. The penalties double for repeat offenders. Still, some like Fathi Farid, a founder of the "I Saw Harassment" campaign, say this law won't make much difference if a judge's two choices are only a fine or jail time.
As for Sisi's televised overture of flowers and a public apology-cum-warning, plenty of politicians orchestrate shows of goodwill. What will set Sisi apart is reducing the numbers of Egyptian women who've been sexually harassed, assaulted or raped. A 2013 study by the U.N. reported 93.3 percent of the country's women say they've been abused, so Sisi's certainly has his work cut out for him.