Egypt's #MeToo moment targets street harassment

Gehad al-Rawy beamed with joy as she emerged from an Egyptian courtroom last September. She had just won a s...

Posted: Jan 7, 2019 12:13 AM
Updated: Jan 7, 2019 12:13 AM

Gehad al-Rawy beamed with joy as she emerged from an Egyptian courtroom last September. She had just won a sexual harassment case, with the judge sentencing her harasser to two years in prison.

It was a rare victory in a country where, according to a 2017 survey by UN Women and Promundo, nearly 60% of Egyptian women have been sexually harassed. In a 2017 Thomson Reuters poll that surveyed experts in women's issues, Cairo was named the most dangerous city in the world for women.

#MeToo movement

Africa

Continents and regions

Crime, law enforcement and corrections

Crimes against persons

Criminal offenses

Demographic groups

Discrimination

Egypt

Females (demographic group)

Feminism

Gender equality

Internet and WWW

Middle East and North Africa

Northern Africa

Population and demographics

Sex and gender issues

Sex crimes

Sex discrimination

Sexual assault

Sexual harassment

Sexual misconduct

Social media

Societal issues

Society

Technology

Violence in society

Cairo

But in 2018, Egyptian women came out with a flurry of accusations against their abusers. Activists call it Egypt's #MeToo moment, catalyzed by the global outcry against sexual abuse in 2018 and leading to major shifts in the conversation around harassment.

Last Eid al-Adha, Rawy and her friend, Rozana Nageh, were subjected to an onslaught of catcalling by two men as they walked through Cairo's Tahrir Square. The women say they were determined to bring the harassers to justice.

They grabbed onto one of their harasser's hands, they say, and tried to drag him to the police station.

Rawy, a 28-year-old researcher and feminist activist, and Nageh struggled to hold on to the man who was writhing and kicking, they tell CNN. As they waited for the police to arrive, a crowd of around ten people attempted to free him from their grip, according to Rawy.

"For 15 minutes, we were beaten, insulted and harassed because we insisted not to let him go," Rawy recalls. By the end of the impasse, bruises and scratches covered her body.

Rawy and Nageh's story is among half a dozen high-profile stories on harassment to surface in recent months. In November, some A-list celebrities called for an end to sexual harassment in a video campaign launched by the Egyptian National Council for Women.

"MeToo moved the world and Egypt is part of that," says Intisar al-Said, a lawyer who has worked with survivors of sexual violence for over a decade.

'Take action'

"Why do we always blame the women for the harassment so that she is both the victim and the condemned" says actress Menna Shalaby in the video campaign.

It features re-enacted scenes of women being groped and brushed against on the street and in public transport. The tagline reads: "Fight harassment. Stand with her and not against her." In the same video, singer and actor Hany Adel implores viewers to "take action against the harasser."

The movement is a far cry from the aftermath of Egypt's uprising in 2011. Mass protests unseated long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak but triggered a surge in sexual harassment.

Videos surfaced of mass sexual assault and gang rape in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the uprising, and sent shockwaves through Egypt.

In 2014, Egypt criminalized verbal and physical abuse. But street harassment appeared to have persisted, buoyed by a widespread culture of victim-blaming. Al-Said says she has observed an increase in reported harassment since 2014, though it is unclear whether the rise in complaints is due to a greater willingness to report the harassment or an actual increase in the incidents.

Religious backing

Last August, Menna Gubran, a woman in her 20s, posted a video on Facebook of a man who made repeated advances in an East Cairo suburb. She was waiting for a bus to work when, she says, he circled around her in a car three times, repeatedly calling out invitations to coffee.

At first, the video appeared to have backfired. A deluge of comments on social media accused Gubran of being an attention-seeker. Her detractors questioned her choice of dress and her morals. Shortly after that, her boss laid her off.

Her harasser, egged on by supporters online, posted comedy spoofs of Gubran's video. "I didn't do anything wrong. When she said that I was bothering her, I apologized and left," the alleged harasser, who identified himself as Mahmoud Soliman, said in a Facebook video.

Soliman did not respond to CNN's request for comment.

But shortly after that, Al-Azhar, the country's highest Sunni Muslim religious authority, weighed in on the debate about sexual harassment.

In an August statement, Al-Azhar called for harsh penalties against sexual harassers and decreed that a woman's clothing should never justify harassment.

It was a blow to those who cited religious dress codes as a rationale for harassment.

"We have been following what the media and social media networks have been saying about sexual harassment cases lately," the statement said. "It's an issue that is completely unacceptable and impossible to be silent about."

Abdallah Sarhan, Dean of Higher Education at Al-Azhar University, tells CNN that the institution--considered by some to be one of the most important Sunni institutions in the Muslim world--was determined to strip harassers of any moral ammunition.

"Although Al-Azhar never accepted any justification for harassment ... this time we are determined to cut the road to harassment completely. We have deprived them of any justifications for their shameful actions."

Leading the charge

While civil society has mobilized on behalf of victims in the past, nowadays, survivors of harassment are leading the charge, al-Said says. But laws to protect harassment claimants from retaliation remain absent and women continue to fear speaking out, she adds.

"Women who report sexual harassment are not only stigmatized and chastised by their families, but sometimes the accused retaliates with a counter lawsuit," al-Said says.

This August, journalist May el-Shamy filed a lawsuit against her editor, Dandarawy al-Hawary, of the pro-government Youm7 newspaper, alleging sexual harassment. The prosecution dismissed the case, and Youm7 reported that Hawary planned to sue her. She was fired. Hawary declined CNN's request for comment.

"My feelings are a mix between my conviction that I can't forgive when it comes to my body whatever happens, and being scared of losing everything," el-Shamy tells CNN.

"I lost my job, and now I'm just staying in my house with no income and no outlet for my energy. I know I'll sink into a deep depression. I'm still scared that any harm could reach my husband or my family," she adds.

Rawy, who won her harassment case, paid for justice with bruises on her body and a two-day wait at a police station. Later, a judge reduced her harasser's sentence to six months.

She doesn't believe she will always be up for the fight. "It depends how many times you're prepared to go to the police station," Rawy says. "Women face harassment every day, and each time you decide what you're capable of doing today."

Terre Haute
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 43°
Robinson
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 43°
Indianapolis
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 39°
Rockville
Overcast
41° wxIcon
Hi: 52° Lo: 35°
Feels Like: 33°
Casey
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 35°
Brazil
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 43°
Marshall
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 43°
Rainy Thursday
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 393797

Reported Deaths: 9889
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1811085450
DuPage23780615
Lake21373514
Will19141430
Kane17421348
Winnebago10703182
St. Clair8096221
Madison7373157
McHenry6671121
Champaign639028
Unassigned4786270
Peoria474877
McLean430138
Sangamon424863
Rock Island417393
Kankakee350581
Macon330854
Tazewell280956
Kendall279730
LaSalle255465
DeKalb246942
Coles203040
Adams200422
Boone195325
Williamson193861
Clinton182829
Vermilion181011
Jackson158426
Whiteside158430
Knox136221
Randolph131415
Ogle12717
Effingham12264
Marion110220
Stephenson10759
Franklin103310
Grundy10197
Morgan98324
Monroe97130
Bureau94817
Jefferson92052
Henry8637
Christian84629
Macoupin82911
Union79925
McDonough78920
Lee7692
Douglas7339
Shelby71512
Fayette69924
Livingston69210
Woodford67615
Crawford6636
Montgomery64416
Logan6144
Saline5969
Fulton5571
Jo Daviess5369
Warren5299
Bond5189
Iroquois51519
Wayne50914
Jersey48121
Cass46811
Perry46516
Moultrie4436
Carroll43712
Pike3887
Johnson3760
Lawrence3518
Richland34218
Washington3272
Clay32413
Hancock3214
Mason3175
Clark31417
Cumberland3086
Greene29915
Mercer2876
De Witt2756
White2744
Jasper27210
Piatt2651
Pulaski2451
Wabash2415
Ford20814
Menard1881
Marshall1663
Edgar15910
Massac1582
Alexander1361
Hamilton1352
Henderson1310
Brown1170
Edwards1140
Gallatin1102
Scott1090
Putnam980
Schuyler931
Stark923
Calhoun640
Hardin560
Pope421
Out of IL10

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 169112

Reported Deaths: 4227
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion26448794
Lake14804364
St. Joseph9866173
Elkhart9549145
Allen8886235
Hamilton6541119
Vanderburgh626970
Tippecanoe409816
Porter361451
Hendricks3472138
Monroe342638
Johnson3352131
Delaware318577
Clark312965
Vigo288341
Madison260797
LaPorte244165
Cass232725
Kosciusko214729
Warrick208965
Floyd190569
Howard172566
Dubois153526
Marshall152829
Bartholomew150758
Wayne149833
Grant138140
Henry137730
Boone132550
Noble127335
Hancock127144
Jackson123319
Dearborn105828
Lawrence102238
Morgan100940
Gibson96712
Clinton95216
Shelby94536
Daviess94136
Knox86110
LaGrange83115
Harrison82424
Fayette81022
DeKalb80011
Putnam78817
Posey7837
Jasper7235
Miami6985
Steuben6849
Montgomery65322
White64016
Adams6177
Greene59438
Scott56916
Decatur54739
Whitley5086
Ripley5018
Wells49011
Wabash4899
Clay4757
Sullivan47414
Starke47310
Huntington4725
Spencer4336
Orange43225
Randolph42711
Fulton4118
Jefferson4095
Perry40414
Washington3983
Jennings39613
Franklin38825
Pike36718
Fountain3563
Carroll35213
Jay3516
Vermillion2871
Tipton28623
Rush2654
Parke2644
Blackford2525
Newton24111
Owen2211
Martin2050
Pulaski1814
Crawford1661
Brown1523
Ohio1377
Union1240
Benton1130
Switzerland1030
Warren1021
Unassigned0236