Egypt's Sexual Assault Problem Isn't Going Away

Sexual harassment is a persistent, endemic problem in Egypt. The government recently moved to criminalize it, putting punishments on the books. But last night proves it's far from handled.

Just last week, CNN reports, outgoing president decreed sexual harassment illegal, punishable by six months in jail. It's now unlawful to waylay anyone by "implying sexual or obscene gestures." Penalties escalate if the harassment is with "the intent of receiving sexual gratification from the victim."

Even as activists welcomed the move, they warned of the law's limits. From the Guardian:

Soraya Bahgat, the co-founder of Tahrir Bodyguards, a group that rescues women from mob sexual assaults during protests, called the amendment "a great first step". But she warned that it still left many grey areas, including uncertainty over how victims of mob attacks might seek legal recourse – particularly if they are expected to bring their assailants to the police in order to lodge a complaint.

"I don't think sexual harassment will be properly part of the government agenda unless society changes. The core issue is that society does not see it as a crime," added Eba'a El-Tamimi, a spokesperson for HarassMap, another activist group.

And last night illustrates their worries all too clearly. Large crowds gathered to celebrate the inauguration of new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In the tumult, a woman was sexually assaulted; brutal video of the incident has been making the rounds on social media. The AP says that seven men have already been arrested.

And, according to BuzzFeed, there are reports of other victims: "Unfortunately we are now witnessing another wave of sexual harassment. We don't have accurate numbers to report but we can say many women, at least five we know about, were attacked by mobs last night," Heba Mohamed, who works with "I Saw Sexual Harassment," told the site.

But here's how one news anchor reacted to vague reports of harassment in Tahrir Square, according to BuzzFeed: dismissively, laughing about how the crowds were "having a good time." She added that, "boys will be boys."

The clip has inspired enough outrage that she felt compelled to do damage control: According to the Globe and Mail, the anchor has followed up on her Facebook, insisting, "I was, along with my guests, commenting on people's joy, not the harassment." One would hope reports of harassment would temper that giddiness just a little.

Photo via AP Images.