In Egypt’s crisis, standing up against sexual abuse

By Chris Lombardi, cross-posted from On The Issues Magazine.

This weekend, Egyptian voters went to the polls despite what many were calling a ‘constitutional coup.’ On June 14, the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the Parliament dissolved, three days before the scheduled presidential runoff between Mohammed Shafiq, an associate of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, and Ahmed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood — already regarded as a Hobson’s choice by Egyptian feminists and pro-democracy activists.  By Sunday night, two things had happened: Morsi was declared the victor, and the military government issued a charter which reserved to the military the power to control the prime minister, lawmaking, the national budget and declarations of war. Left far behind: what did this all mean for women?

Even before then, groups like the April 6 Movement and Nazra Feminist Studies, a grassroots Egyptian organization founded after the Arab Spring, have worried what these elections would mean for women, given the Islamist majority in the just-dissolved Parliament and the fact that only seven women had been selected to help draft the country’s new constitution join in its 100-member Constituent Assembly. Now, the “coup” also came just as sexual violence against women who leave their homes was escalating.

Most recently, on June 8, a group of women trying to march against such harassment was assaulted by mobs of men. One account released by Nazra:

I was grabbed from my ass again and it was a long thing, it wasn’t something accidental or someone who is having fun. No, it was as if someone knows exactly what he is doing and why he is doing it. I turn around and he was there staring at me I recognized him at once he didn’t even feel ashamed or anything he kept staring at me!

The woman’s testimony was released  as part of a Day of Online Awareness on June 13, as hundreds of journalists and bloggers, some using the Twitter hashtag “endSH,” discussed the sexual harassment and abuse that has increasingly characterized life in post-Mubarak Egypt.

Such attacks have long been seen as an effort to “scare women away from the public sphere, to punish women for their participation, and to keep them at home to avoid the premeditated attacks against them,” reads a January report that already cataloged violence against women human rights defenders. “The military regime does not welcome women’s public actions and defends abuses on the basis of moral justifications.”  It also failed to prosecute these abuses,  Human Rights Watch researcher Heba Morayef told USA Today: ”If you know you can get away with sexual harassment and assault, then there is an overall impunity.”

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