Egypt’s El Sisi apologises to victim of Tahrir Square assault
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CAIRO // Bearing red flowers, Egypt’s newly sworn-in president on Wednesday apologised in person to a woman who was sexually assaulted by a mob during weekend celebrations marking his inauguration.
It comes a day after the president ordered a crackdown on sexual harassment, which he described as an “alien phenomenon” in Egypt.
State television showed a visibly moved Abdel Fattah El Sisi visiting the woman in a Cairo hospital.
“I have come to tell you and every Egyptian woman that I am sorry. I am apologising to every Egyptian woman,” Mr El Sisi, a former military chief who ousted the country’s first elected president nearly a year ago, said as he stood by the woman’s bed. “Don’t be upset,” he told her.
Several women were assaulted during Sunday’s inaugural festivities in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square.
The attacks were a grim reminder of one of Egyptian society’s darkest sides and coincided with Mr El Sisi starring in carefully choreographed ceremonies held at two of the capital’s most opulent presidential palaces and attended by hundreds of local and foreign dignitaries.
Mr El Sisi said it was unacceptable for sexual assaults to take place in Egypt and vowed to take “very decisive measures” to combat the crime.
“I tell the judiciary that our honour is being violated on the streets and that is not right. It is not unacceptable, even if it is one case,” said the president.
He also called for the restoration of the “real and moral” values of the country’s streets.
Presidential spokesman Ehab Badawi said Mr El Sisi has instructed Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab to set up a ministerial committee to look into the problem and devise a national strategy to combat it.
Sexual harassment has long been a problem in Egypt, but assaults have become more violent and have increased dramatically in number over the three years since longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak was ousted.
Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, is the most common site of such attacks amid the large crowds. Women’s groups complain that tough new laws have not been sufficient.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, said on Monday it had arrested seven suspects between the ages of 15 to 49, in connection with the sexual harassment that occurred during Sunday’s celebrations. Three of those men have been charged with sexual assault under the threat of force and attempted rape, according to a statement issued by the Egypt’s chief prosecutor, Hesham Barakat.
The statement also gave graphic details of the attack, saying the attackers first formed a circle around a woman and her teenage daughter, stripped the mother and assaulted her. Later, the mother fell on a bowl of hot water used by a tea maker at the square, sustaining burns on 25 per cent of her body.
Mr El Sisi visited the mother on Wednesday.
Last week, authorities issued a decree declaring sexual harassment a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The decree amended Egypt’s current laws on abuse, which did not criminalise sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offences as “indecent assault”.
On Monday, 29 women’s rights groups released a joint statement accusing the government of failing do enough to address the spiralling outbreak of mob attacks on women and calling for a “comprehensive national strategy” to stop the violence.
They said they had documented more than 250 cases of “mass sexual rape and mass sexual assaults” from November 2012 to January 2014.
The uproar over Sunday’s attacks was stoked by comments of a television anchorwoman during a live coverage of the Tahrir celebrations. When the correspondent for Al Tahrir TV told the anchorwoman there had been several cases of sexual harassment, she laughed and said it was “because they are happy”.
* Associated Press
Updated: June 11, 2014 04:00 AM