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Egypt serial sex attacks prompt law change
14 July 2020

Egypt- Nissa FM- Victims of sexual abuse in Egypt are to get anonymity after a high-profile case that saw scores of women use social media to accuse a male student of multiple assaults.

Under the proposals, victims' identities could only be revealed to a court and to defendants upon request.

Research suggests sexual abuse is widespread in Egypt.

However women often fear that if they file complaints they themselves will be blamed.

On Wednesday the Egyptian cabinet approved the anonymity bill, local media reported.

How did the case come to light?

The current attention to the issue began with a rare social media campaign in which women revealed their experiences of alleged abuse.

Last week an Instagram account called Assault Police was set up to publish allegations of rape, sexual harassment and blackmail by dozens of women against student Ahmed Bassam Zaki, who is reportedly from a wealthy family.

Mr Zaki was subsequently arrested and on Monday Egypt's public prosecutor charged him with indecent assault against at least three women, including one who was a minor at the time.

Mr Zaki faces charges of "attempting to have sex with two girls without their consent and indecent assault against both of them and a third girl" between 2016 and 2020, the prosecutor said.

A statement from the prosecutor general's office said Mr Zaki had admitted contacting six women via social media, receiving photos from them and then threatening to send the photos to their families after they chose to end contact with him.

However Mr Zaki denies the other charges, according to local media.

What has the reaction been?

The case has attracted huge attention in national media and from leading institutions.

The country's top Islamic clerical authority, al-Azhar, published a statement encouraging women to report incidents, saying that silence posed a threat to society and led to more violations.

"Women's clothing - whatever it is - is not an excuse for attacking their privacy, freedom and dignity," it said.

Activists are hopeful that the rare public support for women making allegations of harassment is a turning point in Egypt.

Journalist Reem Abdellatif, who was shunned by her family after accusing her father of abuse, posted a message of support online.

"The fact that these girls are speaking out this loudly with this kind of momentum - I've never seen it before," she told Thomas Reuters Foundation.

However there has been some backlash on social media, with some calling Mr Zaki's accusers liars or saying they had themselves to blame.

But others used the Me Too hashtag, widely used globally to call for an end to impunity in cases of sexual harassment.

How widespread are sexual assault and harassment in Egypt?

In 2013 a study by UN Women suggested that 99% of Egyptian women had been sexually harassed, either verbally or physically.

Sexual harassment was criminalised in 2014 but activists say it is difficult to obtain convictions.

Human rights campaigners say women are more often punished for breaking conservative sexual norms.

Several women are currently being prosecuted for "promoting debauchery" on social media platforms TikTok and Instagram.

Last week social media influencer Hadeer al-Hady was reportedly arrested after being accused of posting "indecent videos" online.