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Egypt: Assault on Women in Tahrir Square

Just as Mohamed Morsi was declared the new president of Egypt, crowds poured into Tahrir Square to celebrate. The square, which was the epi-centre of the Egyptian revolution, was filled with jubilation and chants. Fireworks lit up the sky above, but something darker was happening during those moments of celebration.

Journalist Natasha Smith narrated her ordeal as she suffered mass sexual assault while heading to Tahrir Square to join the celebrations in a post titled “Please God. Please make it stop.”:

Hundreds of men pulled my limbs apart and threw me around. They were scratching and clenching my breasts and forcing their fingers inside me in every possible way. So many men. All I could see was leering faces, more and more faces sneering and jeering as I was tossed around like fresh meat among starving lions.

Women were crying and telling me “this is not Egypt! This is not Islam! Please, please do not think this is what Egypt is!” I reassured her that I knew that was the case, that I loved Egypt and its culture and people, and the innate peacefulness of moderate Islam. She appeared stunned. But I’m not really a vengeful person and I could see through the situation. This vicious act was not representative of the place I had come to know and love.

The post triggered more than 1,000 comments, which ranged from deep praise of Natasha's courage to dismay and denial of her account. The incident is reminiscent of the mass assault on reporter Lara Logan on February 11, right after former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. What happened to Logan also triggered similar reactions on the blogosphereand mainstream media.

A poster from the Facebook page calling for a protest against sexual harassment on July 4

A poster from the Facebook page calling for a protest against sexual harassment on July 4. The Arabic text reads: No to sexual harassment. Take care of her.. protect her

Recently, a march demanding an end to sexual harassment ended with the mass sexual harassment of the protesters. Rights NGOs warned that the rise of the incidence of sexual violence is an attempt by state forces to intimidate women and limit their participation in public life. Reem Labib, one of the participants in the anti-harassment protest shares her story in a post titled “They were cowards and I shall remain.”:

We all take to the streets in protest demanding freedom, dignity, and equality knowing and accepting the risks, including sexual violence. Being blessed with a healthy and rather sheltered upbringing and environment, the knowledge of the risk and acceptance of it does not prepare you for this, nothing does; this assault is by far the worst violation I ever experienced and I know it will take me some time to heal.

It took a mob maybe a hundred-harasser strong or more to physically overcome me, to scare me, to make me scream, it was not a fair fight; my body was violated and defiled – but they only scratched my shell, they did not break my core, I will not be victimized, and I am not broken.

Meanwhile, activists are organizing for a protest on July 4 against harassment, demanding safe streets for everyone.

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