Update: Cairo University professor investigated on sexual harassment charges

Cairo University President Gaber Nasser has referred a political science professor to investigation on accusations of sexually harassing female students, the state-owned news site EgyNews reported.

Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science Hala al-Saeid had presented an official complaint to Nassar that included the signatures of 180 students.

The professor will be banned from giving or grading examinations or research projects until the results of the investigations are done, Nasser said.

On Monday, union representative Ibrahim Abu Gazia had told Mada Masr that junior students studying “Latin Research” were outraged by their professor, identified as M.H, while presenting their midterm papers. The professor made the students wait for hours in front of his office to submit their papers, and reportedly assigned grades based on their appearances.

“He would tell one girl how beautiful she is, or ask her to turn around. He would also say how beautiful the neck of a non-veiled girl is. Of course, male students never pass his courses. I know female students who decided not to come to class again,” one student, identified as Noha to protect her identity, told Mada Masr.

“One male student said once that he wished his name was Sawsan in order to pass his classes. Any male wishing to pass the course has to go to this professor’s office with a beautiful female student,” she claimed.

Gazia said the students voiced their complaints on social media and found a number of other students and graduates who had experienced similar incidents with the same professor.

“The wave of anger triggered us to launch this campaign. We were promised by the faculty’s dean, Hala al-Saeed, that she would present the petition to Cairo University administration to initiate an investigation against the professor,” he added.

A campaign called “Ehky” (speak out) in the Faculty of Mass Communication at the same university was launched last week, and the incident became its first campaign, founder and senior student Shorouk Ashraf told Mada Masr.

Ashraf, who said the campaign was part of a class on how to launch social media campaigns, said that although she doesn’t have accurate statistics on how serious sexual harassment by professors is inside the university, she thinks the practice is endemic.

Cairo University President Gaber Nassar said in an interview with the online Al-Bawaba news portal that at least four faculty members across the university have been suspended this term due to sexual harassment reports.

“Once we spoke about the campaign, we received endless responses about cases of sexual harassment by professors. It is even more serious, because fewer girls are speaking out, in fear of jeopardizing their future,” she said.

Noha described the practice as “sexual bribery,” as girls are forced to stay silent so that they can get higher grades.

“Our relationships with our professors should be academic and based on mutual respect. Jeopardizing this relationship and using the powers professors have to get sexual benefits is unfair. Students should not be judged by their looks, but should be evaluated by their efforts and excellence,” she added.

Researcher of gender issues at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Dalia Abdel Hamid, told Mada Masr that sexual harassment inside institutions, including work spaces and universities, is the worst form of harassment.

“Since we suffer more from sexual harassment on the streets, sexual harassment inside institutions is largely ignored in discussions about public space, but it is extremely endemic, and there are no clear legislative approaches to protect women from sexual harassment inside institutions,” she explained.

While sexual harassment is largely based on power dynamics between the harasser and the victim, these dynamics are much stronger inside institutions than they are on the street, Hamid added.

“Women are subject to harassment in work spaces and they are silent about it in order to not be fired, or in order to get a deserved promotion. Studies show, for example, that nurses in some hospitals are sexually harassed by doctors and cannot speak out due to the hierarchical work relationship and other class considerations,” she explained.

Hamid recalls another case at Cairo University in which a female student was subject to mob sexual assault by male students in March. In this incident, the remarks of university president Nassar himself were heavily criticized.

The former law professor, and member of the constituent assembly that drafted the country’s current constitution, said the girl was dressed provocatively and that the university would investigate whether the incident was her fault or that of her harassers. 

Although Nassar later apologized for his remarks following heavy criticism, Hamid believes they reveal a lot. “Female students can speak about harassment by professors, but the university’s administration itself does not take action against harassing students,” she said.

The social stigma associated with reporting sexual harassment is not the only problem, Hamid asserted. “The issue is more difficult when a victim is reporting on someone she knows, or when you are not sure if you have the support of those in authority” she added.

Former interim President Adly Mansour amended some articles in the Penal Code last year criminalizing sexual harassment, which Hamid believes are a good start, but lack the political will for implementation.

Yet, Noha remains hopeful that change could happen. “I’m proud of my colleges who are finally speaking out against injustice. Sexual harassment is unjust.”