Sexual Assault as Political Tool: Men Attacking Women at Tahrir Square
On the night former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison, 26-year-old IT officer Nihal Saad and four of her friends joined the tens of thousands who returned to Tahrir Square to protest the verdict, which many believed would be reversed on appeal. At 8:30 p.m., they were attacked by a group of men whose numbers seemed to double by the minute.
The perpetrators crammed in so tight, Saad couldn’t lift her arms, she said; the sexual assault began. It felt like they were touching everywhere. One of Saad's friends was the biggest target: they pulled off her shirt, then her pants, raping her with their hands. When the group finally got away, an hour and a half later, they went straight to the hospital.
It was not an isolated incident.
On and off for the last week—as voters head to the polls in the second round of presidential elections scheduled for June 16 and 17 after a week of renewed demonstrations at Tahrir—large groups of men have sexually attacked women at the birthplace of Egypt's 18-day revolution last year that brought down the Mubarak regime.
In response to the assaults, Saad and her friends had planned a march to call for gender equality and demand the right to assemble without fear. On Friday night, around 50 women heeded their call, chanting for a little over an hour—until men swarmed their protective human cordon and again attacked. Men seemed to appear from nowhere, grabbing, groping, ripping clothes, stealing phones and money.
Sexual harassment is endemic in Egypt, but assault by groups of dozens or hundreds of men is not. "It didn’t seem normal. Everything about it was wrong. It didn’t seem like the day-to-day harassment that women get, it seemed organized,” Saad says of what’s been happening over the last week in Tahrir.