Dozens of men were arrested nationwide on Sham al-Nessim on Monday, accused of sexual harassment. The arrests were reported following the deployment of police forces, notably female officers, in Egypt’s public gardens, parks and streets. Several government hotlines for reporting incidents were also available over the holiday.
Local media outlets report that 15 men were detained on Monday for sexual harassment in the governorate of Beheira, while 30 were arrested in the governorates of Cairo and Giza, at least one of who was apprehended at the Giza Zoo.
On Tuesday the state-appointed National Council for Women (NCW) issued a statement highlighting that 58 complaints had been filed at the Giza Security Directorate pertaining to incidents of verbal sexual harassment at Giza Zoo alone. The statement added that the Giza Security Directorate’s Division to Confront Violence Against Women is working to provide social and legal support to victims.
Despite the dozens of incidents registered in Giza, the NCW claimed that this year saw a low number of complaints, “due to the heightened security presence in places which have witnessed increased incidents of harassment, along with the active role of the NCW, which works throughout the year to combat harassment and violence against women.” The statement also asserted that increased penalties against sexual harassment, introduced via amendments to the Penal Code, have acted as a deterrent.
The NCW claimed that it had not received any official complaints regarding incidents of sexual harassment on Sham al-Nessim via its hotline number. However, the hotline was not clearly posted or promoted on its website ahead of the holiday.
The full extent of the sexual harassment and assault on Sham al-Nessim is not known. While official statistics reflect registered complaints, many women choose not to report harassment. This may be due to the social stigma associated with such crimes, or low expectations regarding the police’s willingness or ability to apprehend perpetrators.
In the past volunteers associated with civil society groups have worked with authorities to monitor and confront sexual harassment in public places. However, this year civil society organizations were not welcomed to join the state’s efforts to confront sexual harassment.
The women’s rights organization Nazra Center for Feminist Studies maintained a hotline number to report incidents of sexual harassment.
A hotline operator told Mada Masr that Nazra maintains its phone number for reporting sexual harassment, but not a street presence through which to intervene and report such crimes. They added that Nazra, like other non-governmental organizations, has been mapping incidents of sexual harassment, but has been unable to deploy volunteers in public places for the past few years.
Fathy Farid, a former volunteer with the group Shoft Taharosh (I saw sexual harassment) and member of the Aman Organization, an independent NGO, told Mada Masr “since 2014, all such volunteer organizations have witnessed increasing and systematic restrictions by security services.” This has kept them from partaking in joint campaigns with the state to confront sexual harassment and assault.
Farid added that they have sought to revive efforts against sexual violence in Egypt in collaboration with the state, to little avail. He said that most anti-harassment campaigns are now either hotline based, or limited to an online presence.
Despite this, he said that, “When female officers have been deployed, they have asked us for technical assistance and about our previous experiences in confronting sexual harassment.” According to Farid, since 2011 civil society groups have spurred the state into action against sexual harassment and sexual violence.
“However, since 2015, there has not been a single NGO that has received security clearance to set up public booths, or to take part in street campaigns against harassment,” said Farid, who claimed that when attempting to take part in public anti-harassment campaigns volunteers have had their personal identification cards confiscated by police, and others have been detained.
“There are no clear figures regarding the number of incidents of sexual harassment. There is not sufficient information, and most of the information which is made available is issued through police sources” Said Farid. He does not believe that the problem of sexual harassment has decreased as a result of Interior Ministry campaigns against sexual harassment.
“The police is now portraying itself as not only a state body, but a patriarchal authority, presiding over Egypt and its morals,” he asserts.
Farid claims that the state is monopolizing efforts against sexual harassment for two reasons. “Firstly it strives to portray itself as the champion of the cause, affirming that its official measures and laws are sufficient to address the problem. Secondly, they are striving to marginalize civil society groups.”
He added “There is legislation to confront harassment, but little enforcement of this legislation.”
In 2014, interim President Adly Mansour had issued Presidential Decree 50 which amended provisions of Egypt’s Penal Code, and imposed fines ranging between LE3,000 to LE5,000 for those caught in the act of sexual harassment or assault through gestures, words or actions. Assailants are to be sentenced to a minimum of six months in prison.
Additional penalties of one year in prison, and fines ranging between LE5,000 and LE10,000 have been introduced for repeat offenders, and those found guilty of stalking.