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Egypt cabinet approves bill to keep sexual harassment victims anonymous

Egyptian women protesters against sexual harassment in Cairo, Egypt on 12 February 2013 [Ed Giles/Getty Images]
Egyptian women protest against sexual harassment in Cairo, Egypt on 12 February 2013 [Ed Giles/Getty Images]

Egypt’s cabinet has approved a bill which will keep the identities of women filing complaints of sexual assault a secret.

However, identities could be revealed to courts and defendants on request.

The bill follows the the widely shared news of serial rapist Ahmed Bassam Zaki, who was accused by some 50 women of various sexual crimes including rape, sexual assault and harassment.

He was also accused of blackmailing women with fake and real nude shots and by threatening to commit suicide.

READ: Egypt arrests another TikTok influencer as crackdown on social media continues

Zaki, 21, confessed to a number of the accusations including of one who was a minor at the time.

As the case unwound, it was revealed that in 2016, when Zaki was a senior at the American International School in Cairo, allegations were made against him yet punitive action was not taken, reinforcing the view that impunity for sexual harassment perpetrators is rife in Egypt.

A graphic calling Ahmed Bassem Zaki a rapist, posted on an Instagram profile claiming to collect evidence against him [assaultpolice / Instragram]

A graphic calling Ahmed Bassem Zaki a rapist, posted on an Instagram profile claiming to collect evidence against him [assaultpolice / Instragram]

The case attracted attention both at home, where it was dubbed Egypt’s #MeToo moment, and abroad, which led Egyptian authorities – usually more known for their inaction than swift behaviour – to arrest the student.

On Tuesday the state’s National Council for Women said it had received over 400 complaints of violence since Zaki’s story broke.

The question now will be how to implement the new legislation to the benefit of women, rather than just bringing about cosmetic change to quell the growing pressure which followed the Zaki revelations.

Sexual harassment was criminalised in 2014, however, this has not stopped violations from taking place and neither has it led to a notable number of convictions.

READ: Egypt man locks his sister in a room for 22 years

Likewise, female genital mutilation was made illegal in Egypt in 2008, with the punishment becoming stricter in 2016, yet those who carry it out are still largely unpunished.

Egypt’s government has been accused of implementing a legal system which enforces the view that women are to blame for sexual crimes.

Over recent months seven women have been arrested in Egypt after appearing on TikTok. One explained to other women how to make money by sharing videos online, another appeared on a beach dancing with her dog with pop music playing in the background.

However, these women have been charged with an array of offenses, including promoting debauchery, offending family values and promoting sexually suggestive videos.

READ: Egypt suspends Islamic preacher who says women are harassed due to tight clothing

In May, Menna Abdel Aziz posted a video of her bruised face, recounting how she had been raped by a male friend who was aided by female friends. Menna was subsequently arrested by security forces.

The top down, systematic sexual assault of women carried out by authorities, and the impunity of attackers, has encouraged perpetrators in the country.

During the 2011 Arab Spring then Defence Minister Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi spearheaded virginity tests against female protesters as a way of deterring them from being politically active.

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