Stomach sinking. Outrage growing. Another recorded sexual assault committed by a group of men against one woman at Tahrir Square in Egypt.
Associated Press journalist Sarah El Deeb writes:
“Her screams were not drowned out by the clamor of the crazed mob of nearly 200 men around her. An endless number of hands reached toward the woman in the red shirt in an assault scene that lasted less than 15 minutes but felt more like an hour.
She was pushed by the sea of men for about a block into a side street from Tahrir Square. Many of the men were trying to break up the frenzy, but it was impossible to tell who was helping and who was assaulting. Pushed against the wall, the unknown woman’s head finally disappeared. Her screams grew fainter, then stopped. Her slender tall frame had clearly given way. She apparently had passed out.
The helping hands finally splashed the attackers with bottles of water to chase them away.
The assault late Tuesday was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was almost overwhelmed by the crowd herself and had to be pulled to safety by men who ferried her out of the melee in an open Jeep.
Reports of assaults on women in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year, have been on the rise with a new round of mass protests to denounce a mixed verdict against the ousted leader and his sons in a trial last week.
The late Tuesday assault was the last straw for many. Protesters and activists met Wednesday to organize a campaign to prevent sexual harassment in the square. They recognize it is part of a bigger social problem that has largely gone unpunished in Egypt. But the phenomenon is trampling on their dream of creating in Tahrir a micro-model of a state that respects civil liberties and civic responsibility, which they had hoped would emerge after Mubarak’s ouster.
“Enough is enough,” said Abdel-Fatah Mahmoud, a 22-year-old engineering student, who met Wednesday with friends to organize patrols of the square in an effort to deter attacks against women. “It has gone overboard. No matter what is behind this, it is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be happening on our streets let alone Tahrir.”
Journalists Lara Logan, Mona Eltahawy, and Caroline Sinz; Egyptian actress Sherihan; the woman in the blue bra, and countless other women have lived through mass gropings and sexual assaults simply for being women protesting or reporting on the protests at Tahrir Square. Hundreds (thousands?) of women have lived through verbal sexual harassment in a place that is supposed to symbolize freedom, revolution, and safety.
Women have not been silent. They’ve gone public with their stories of assault, they’ve organized marches, and they’ve shared stories online. They’ve experienced backlash and harassment for speaking out and marching.
But still, the assaults and harassment continues.
Maybe with more men and women speaking out together to create a campaign to stop harassment specifically in the Square, complete with a patrol, things will be different…?
HarassMap, the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, and other activist groups have been active on this issue for years (including by recently organizing nearly 100 people in a Human Chain), but clearly a targeted campaign is necessary. This is happening too often at Tahrir Square when one incident would be outrageous enough.
When will men allow women in Egypt be safe to protest, to participate in the political process, to be in public places? What will it take?
Update #2: Follow @HarassMap to see their brainstorm for dealing with the harassers/assaulter, including by encouraging women to use spray cans to mark the perpetrators.