Reports of sexual violence have multiplied in the wake of recent protests against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood government. Over the past several months, Egypt has experienced political gridlock, with Egyptians increasingly questioning the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to govern the country, resolve persistent economic problems, and negotiate compromises with non-Islamist political parties.
After large demonstrations on Sunday, June 30 in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, the Egyptian army issued an ultimatum giving President Morsi until Wednesday, July 3 to resolve the political crisis by negotiating a power-sharing deal with opposition parties. President Morsi responded by issuing a statement saying that he had not been consulted by the army in advance about the ultimatum. Protesters turned out in large numbers today, called “the Tuesday of persistence,” in an attempt to force President Morsi out of office.
While most Egyptians have protested peacefully, it is widely reported that violence in general, and particularly sexual violence against female protesters, has been on the rise. Human Rights Watch reports , “In Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of protesters had gathered throughout the day, mobs assaulted and gang raped at least 46 women, according to reports received by the group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment.” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reporter Jeremy Bowen also reported that a number of women protesters had taken refuge in the BBC’s Egypt headquarters during Sunday’s demonstrations in order to avoid sexual violence. The Committee to Protect Journalists noted that one journalist was killed over the weekend during the protests, and seven were injured, including a Dutch television reporter who was raped in Tahrir Square by unidentified perpetrators and required surgery and two days of hospitalization. She has since returned to the Netherlands. It has been reported that security forces have not been present to intervene in incidents of sexual violence.
Sexual harassment has long been recognized as a serious problem on the streets of Cairo. Local organization HarassMap, founded in December 2010 with the goal of providing women with up-to-date information about sexual harassment in Cairo, is actively monitoring the current situation. Their map of incidents of sexual harassment is an innovative tool that helps protect women, by documenting where incidents of sexual harassment happen in real time.