Shura Council’s human rights committee members said on Monday that women taking part in protests bear the responsibility of being sexually harassed, describing what happens in some demonstrators’ tents as “prostitution.”The Shura Council is the "upper house" of Egypt's Parliament. And these are members of its human rights committee!
Major General Adel Afify, member of the committee representing the Salafi Asala Party, criticized female protesters, saying that they “know they are among thugs. They should protect themselves before requesting that the Interior Ministry does so. By getting herself involved in such circumstances, the woman has 100 percent responsibility.”
During the committee meeting on Monday, Afify called for penalizing children, even if it does not conform to international charters to which Egypt is signatory, and criticized foreign-funded organizations, which adopt western thought, he said.
Salah Abdel Salam, a member representing the Salafi Nour Party, said that as long as women protest in places full of thugs, they should take responsibility for the harassment they face.
Mervat Ebeid, member representing Wafd party, said all societal categories are to be blamed for sexual harassment. She also said that knowing there are many thugs present at demonstrations, women should take responsibility when deciding whether to attend protests.
Reda Saleh al-Hefnawy, member representing FJP, demanded penalizing those who incite sexual harassment. He also called on women not to stand among men during protests.
Major General Abdel Fattah Othman, vice-chief of the public security department, said Egyptian law doesn’t include the term ‘sexual harassment,’ but does legislate against indecent assault and rape.
Security presence in Tahrir or in places of protests in sensitive, Othman said, suggesting that security personnel would get attacked if they were present at demonstrations.
All these years I thought that Arabs blaming the victim was only in relation to Jews, but now I see they blame women as well for having the audacity of being sexually assaulted.
The Muslim Brotherhood is using the stories of rape as a means to try to suppress anti-government demonstrations:
According to Brotherhood MP and committee deputy chairman Ezzeddin El-Komi, "as many as 24 incidents of rape have been reported in Tahrir Square in recent days."
"No one has made any effort to fight this disturbing trend," El-Komi added, pointing out that one recent rape victim in Tahrir Square had been a female correspondent for Sky News TV.
He went on to wonder "why local media isn't mentioning this phenomenon after focussing so intently on the protester who was beaten and stripped [by security forces] outside the Presidential Palace last week."
Ahmed El-Khatib, deputy chairman of Alexandria's Appeal Court, agreed, asserting that "anti-government rallies have become fertile ground for incidents of sexual harassment and the proliferation of vice."
"The growing phenomenon of sexual harassment puts the onus on the political forces that are calling for these demonstrations," said El-Khatib. "If these forces aren't strong enough to secure their rallies against acts of rape, they should stop calling for them."
He urged the government to expedite the drafting of a new anti-protest law while toughening penalties against convicted sexual offenders.
Abdel-Fattah Othman, deputy interior minister for public security, meanwhile, confirmed that Tahrir Square had become "the scene of collective rape incidents in recent weeks."
According to Othman, the total number of reported acts of rape in Egypt last year stood at 129, while incidents of sexual harassment reached 9,468 for the same period – with Cairo accounting for the lion's share.
Mervat Ebeid, for her part, a female Brotherhood MP, urged women "to think twice" about participating in political demonstrations "so as not to become prey to sexual offenders and armed thugs who commit rape."
However, non-Brotherhood MPs, such as Nabil Azmi, argued that increasing incidents of rape and sexual harassment should not be used as justification for attacking political demonstrations, asking women to refrain from joining them, or issuing draconian anti-protest laws.
"Some MPs are not so concerned with combating rape and sexual harassment as they are with tarnishing the image of anti-regime rallies and scaring women from joining them," argued Azmi.
He added: "I'm afraid that security forces are only concerned with arresting peaceful demonstrators and torturing them rather than rounding up armed thugs who commit rape."
Mona Makram Ebeid, an appointed Coptic member of the Shura Council (the upper house of Egypt's parliament, currently endowed with legislative powers), told Ahram Online that "by engaging in debates on rape and sexual harassment, Muslim Brotherhood MPs are trying to score political gains by tarnishing the image of democratic protests."
"I'm also afraid that these reactionary forces are trying to impose their code of conduct on women in Egypt, which includes intimidating them from participating in political activity," Ebeid added.