The MeToo hashtag has never been so popular on Egyptian social media. 1is Last July, an Instagram account called “Police for Assault” shared dozens of testimonies from young women accusing a certain Ahmed Bassem Zaki, a student at a posh Cairo university, of harassment and rape.
Almost six months later, Egyptian justice sentenced him, Tuesday, December 29, to three years in prison. If the young man has already announced his intention to appeal, he is still accused in another trial, to be held in early January, of harassment, this time against three underage girls.
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The “Zaki affair”, if it remained limited to the most privileged spheres of Egyptian society, is emblematic of the impunity enjoyed by part of the golden youth of the suburbs of Cairo. Part of social networks, it was relayed by Egyptian women experienced in using Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Police for assault” had received several hundred messages from women claiming to have been victims of sexual harassment or assault, taking advantage of the anonymity of the social network. The account had managed to retrieve a voice recording of Ahmed Zaki blackmailing one of the victims and threatening her boyfriend with death. The exhibit was added as evidence to the file presented to the Egyptian court.
An unprecedented surge
In the aftermath of this case, testimonials continued to abound online for weeks. Other accounts have been created, entitled “Collective rapists of Cairo” or “The crazy list”. With the help of these virtual relays, a group of young people from the Cairo bourgeoisie was implicated in several gang rapes of at least six women.
In August, the Egyptian justice announced the opening of an investigation on five members of this group, for the rape of a woman in 2014. She would have been drugged then raped after a party in a five-star hotel in Cairo. The defendants have reportedly traced their initials on their backs, Egyptian media report. A few weeks later, the case of another victim, also raped in a hotel outside Cairo, near Giza, resurfaced. Again after a private party.
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Faced with the lack of response from the Egyptian police, a whole generation of women have turned to social networks to denounce the violence they are subjected to. The wave has no comparable precedent in Egypt. In the wake of these revelations, the Prime Minister announced his intention to amend the legislation in force to further protect the identity of victims of sexual assault.
“Our mothers were already going through the same thing”
In 2018, the Egyptian authorities had launched a toll-free number – 15 115 – for women victims of violence. Journalists had tried to call the hotline to test the device. Out of 40 calls, only two were successful, the others drowning in endless administrative questions.
“Despite the efforts of the ministry, it is in the mentalities that everything is played”, reacts a student, herself determined to make public on Twitter the insults and harassment she sees “Almost every day” in the streets of Cairo, “Our mothers were already going through the same thing, nothing has changed for years”.
According to a UN report, a third of Egyptian women claim to have been victims of sexual violence. Many activists have been arrested or prevented by the authorities from leaving the country in recent years, according to women’s rights groups.