Egypt: New Criminal Penalties for Sexual Harassment as Violence Increases
Thursday, June 12, 2014 3:30 PM

Egypt’s outgoing president, Adly Mansour, recently amended the country’s criminal code to expand the definition of sexual harassment and increase penalties for perpetrators, adding prison terms of up to five years. Persons with “power” over the victim or persons in uniform now face a minimum of two years in prison. Previous versions of the law did not specifically define sexual harassment and were ineffective, referring to such acts as “indecent assault.” Critics say the new decree will do little to stop harassment because judges have the option of imposing minor fines instead of prison terms. The changes also did not address rape or sexual assault.

Egypt has faced mounting criticism regarding the significant increase in public violence and harassment of women, and the rising number of sexual assaults since the 2011 revolt against former President Hosni Mubarak. A 2013 UN study found nearly 100% of Egyptian women had suffered some form of harassment and abuse. Recently, a group of 25 women’s organizations led by Egyptian NGO, Nazra for Feminist Studies, recorded over 250 cases of mass sexual assault in public demonstrations during the period November 2012 to January 2014. They recorded at least nine more on June 8, 2014. A video depicting one of these mass sexual assaults in Tahrir Square during celebrations for the inauguration of new Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was widely circulated online. The incident sparked outrage over the incoming regime’s failure to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Women’s rights groups claim that Egyptian security forces have made no effort to educate officers on how to effectively combat sexual violence. Police frequently provide perpetrators with the victim’s personal information, or victims are blamed for the assault. Mr. Sisi himself was criticized in 2011 for defending the use of forced “virginity tests’” on female detainees to determine if they had been raped.

Despite the inspiration provided by the Egyptian revolution’s protest culture, victims and survivors still face great social stigma if they choose to speak out. Meanwhile, the country’s military regime and its main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, blame each other for the prevalence of sexual violence. This practice has been highly condemned by women’s rights advocates across Egypt as absolving both sides of responsibility for the violence against women. 

Compiled fromKamel, May and El sheikh, Mayy, Egypt’s Inaction on Sexual Attacks Stirs Fury, The New York Times (June 10, 2014); Kirkpatrick, David D. and El Sheikh, Mayy, Video of Mass Sexual Assault Taints Egypt Inauguration, The New York Times (June 9, 2014); Sexual harassment made a crime in Egypt, Al-Jazeera (June 6, 2014).