Mass Protests, Mass Rapes: An Epidemic of Sexual Violence in Tahrir Square

At least 100 women have been sexually assaulted and in some cases raped by mobs in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the recent mass protests against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Human Rights Watch says that nothing less than an epidemic of sexual violence against women has been happening.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been criticized for a “polarizing style of governance“and for failing to address Egypt’s struggling economy and establish security. As of July 3, Morsi is no longer in power. After an ultimatum that the army had given him expired, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian army, announced on Egyptian TV that the country’s constitution has been suspended and that new elections will be held. But will the next regime take preventing violence against women seriously?

Women Protesters Unprotected in Tahrir Square

Since November 2011, HRW says that police have not maintained a presence in Tahrir Square during protests to avoid confrontations with those involved. The result has been that women protesters are unprotected and the men carrying out the attacks know that police with neither arrest or identify them. Some have said that the past week’s assaults have been organized to intimidate women from joining the demonstrations and were intended to cast a shadow over them.

A hotline run by an Egyptian group, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault, reports that 46 attacks against women occurred this past Sunday, 17 on Monday and 23 on Tuesday. In 31 instances, volunteers from the group stepped in to protect and evacuate women from Tahrir Square. Four of the women needed medical assistance and two suffered so many injuries — one from being raped with a “sharp object” — that they had to be transported in an ambulance to the hospital.

In many cases, the women were not only assaulted for as long as an hour, but beaten with metal chains, sticks and chairs and attacked with knives. Those who rushed to help them were also attacked. In some cases, men claiming to help women “were in fact taking part” in the attacks, says HRW.

Women had endured equally horrific assaults by mobs in Tahrir Square in June and November of 2012 and in January of this year.

Assaults Highlight Government’s Failure To Address Violence Against Women

What the attacks more than reveal is “the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” says Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

The Egyptian government’s response to this wave of violence against women has been to sidestep the issue, either by downplaying how widespread a problem it is or saying it will be dealt with via legislative reforms. State medical officials, the media and political parties have shown little respect for women’s privacy and the trauma they experience. Members of the Shura Council, Egypt’s legislative body, have put the blame on women for the mob assaults in Tahrir. HRW quotes one member, General Adel Afifi, saying that “women contribute 100 percent in their rape because they put themselves in such circumstances.”

The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party also showed no respect for the privacy of one survivor of sexual assault, identifying her name and nationality on their website on July 1 and in the July 2 print version of the party’s paper.

The blame for being sexually assaulted has indeed fallen on women themselves. Those who have spoken out about the violence they have endured face social stigma. Knowing that the likelihood of their attackers being prosecuted is low, most women do not report sexual assaults to the police. It was an “unusual move among survivors” when Yasmine el-Baramawy, Hania Moheeb and five other women filed a joint complaint about sexual assaults they had endured in March. An investigation was opened and the women’s testimony taken, but none of their attackers have been identified nor indicted.

As Stork says, “Impunity for sexual violence against women in the public sphere in Egypt is the norm.” Egyptian governments have only offered women “piecemeal, ad-hoc responses” about sexual violence that is a far cry from the “the medical and psycho-social support” they truly need.

On Wednesday, after Morsi’s ouster in Egypt’s second revolution in two years, leading opposition figure Mohammed ElBaradei was among the religious and political leaders who appeared with General Sisi. ElBaradei said that there will now be  a “fresh start” to the January 2011 revolution. Will women’s rights, including basic human rights to be able to live freely and without fear of sexual violence, be recognized?

Photo via Lorenz Khazaleh

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Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda2 years ago

Horrible to hear about, but spreading the word is necessary.

Nichola Mac Donough
Nichola Mac D2 years ago

"...women needed medical assistance and two suffered so many injuries — one from being raped with a “sharp object”" jesus christ...I am sick to the teeth of this culture of 'normality' towards rape and sexual assault toward women...IT IS NOT OK TO F**KING RAPE US... I don't give a shit about your religion or your culture...IT IS STILL NOT OK. This has to stop NOW. If it doesn't we need to start taking the law into our own hands. And before people start mouthing of about it being Muslim faith/men whatever...take a look in your own 'backyard' it's not so long ago Care2 ran a huge story about the levels of rape in the American military. Enough is enough...NO MORE....

Athena F.
A F.2 years ago

Spread the word, educate those who have turned a blind eye to this problem. Open their eyes. Anti-women culture spans the globe and takes many forms, from the very minor (degrading language used against women in a casual, day-to-day manner, so frequent many people don't even think about it as being negative) to horrors like this. It is sad that something as simple as empathy is still so hard won for this human race.

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

Just a little follow-up on the rape issue in general - as the overall "opinion" (I'd call it almost brainwash) seems to prevail these days that this is a unique Muslim men behaviour and does almost not exist anywhere else:

This is today's America - to my knowledge NOT an Islamic country as their Muslim population is hardly 1% of the total population.

Some food for thought ... before sticking everything bad on just one (religious) segment of our society.

Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

So sick of this f***** abuses to women! Until when?? Rapers should be in jail for the rest of their lives, or be killed!

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

To Ali G – your last 2 para put it right to the point. Thank you! I always wonder why we mortals can’t get to accept that none of us knows the ultimate truth. All we know for sure is that we don’t know; what’s so difficult in accepting this fact? Neuro-science has it that as newborns we go through a process called synaptic pruning and lose approx. 40% of the neurons by the time we reach adulthood. Often I ask myself if some of us don’t loose more than that?!

As for the 3 questions posed they’re easy to answer from the religious point:

1) it states in the Qur’an that Muslims must respect all three scriptures and its adherents.

2) Simply read Sura 109 – it says it all with respect to the non-believers. As for the killing of apostates: the Minister of Al-Awqaf has stated very clearly that an apostate is immune against all harm provided he doesn’t spread his views publicly (incites). I'd welcome to see it all cancelled as I insist in having my choice but it's not really my business anyway.

3) If one would care to know rather than repeating the propaganda ... those referred to as infidels are first and foremost those who have the scriptures but don’t adhere to their teachings. The lying part always gets me – the anti-Semite argues the same way in pointing to the Kol Nidre prayer of the Jews in that their word/signature/promise is nullified with it. Equally ignorant.


Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

What the typical Islamophobe refers to - that Muslims are allowed to lie - stems from the time of the Shia vs Sunni battles. If the Shia were in a life threatening situation they were allowed to lie. It’s that simple and straight forward ... if one is into knowledge.

Now what the people make out of these theories in trying to achieve their agenda and goals is a different story altogether! I agree with you that we all should respect each other’s believes rather than belittling someone who shows great respect for other people and their believes and who does no harm to anyone but who tries to see all aspects of life.

I have come to learn that many atheists of today can join hands with the extremists of the three mono religions as they are equally fanatic about their unproven “faith”.

Ali Gore
Ali Gore2 years ago

Very worrying that this is happening, I hope with all the changes happening over there that women end up with a better deal.
Just to add, I think its very harsh that people are asking muslims on here to explain and justify extracts from the Quran. I have studied theology, it interests me alot. In almost all religious teachings and books there are extracts that can be taken that would sound extreme and could be used in a negative way.
If someone follows a faith, is it too difficult to respect their choice rather than berate them for their beliefs? What links us all here is that we CARE. Isnt acceptance and tolerance part of caring too?

Eleonora Oldani
Eleonora Oldani2 years ago

To Bob M. - If I ever saw a perfect model of cheap sheer projection, it is – by a long stroke – your last response to my simple question! If one comes up with a figure as precise as 97%, one normally has some statistical basis (source) for such figure. But if one does not, it is so typical that one resorts to throwing dust in the eyes calling the most basic, logical, and legitimate question about the source “games”…

Let me give you a friendly advice for free; phrases such as “I have a source but…” are way out of date.. pretty obsolete.. I would suggest you should start looking for new ones. And while at it, if you are in the business of making up numbers, why do you have to settle for a meager 97%? Why don’t you shoot for something more challenging like, say, 99.9%?! I guess 100% would be a bit too blatant and rather dumb; wouldn’t you say?

Peggy A.
Peggy A.2 years ago

How horrible!