On June 30, a young woman, a British reporter, was violently assaulted near Mohamed Mahmoud Street in downtown Cairo by a gang of more than 15 men armed with knives. Two volunteers from Tahrir Bodyguard, a grassroots initiative, managed to get her to a safe house in the area, but the assailants kept trying to break down the door. Eventually, an ambulance took her to a public hospital nearby, where she required immediate surgery. She barely survived.
“I’ve never witnessed something like this in my life,” says Tarek Najara, a volunteer with Tahrir Bodyguard, which has been patrolling mass protests since November 2012. “All my clothes were full of blood and I thought it was my blood, but then I realized it was her blood. She was bleeding heavily, it was too much.”
Egypt’s latest wave of protests that ousted the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi brought increased violence against women. And it doesn’t matter if the women are young or old, foreigners or Egyptian, veiled or not. A female protester, a veiled young Egyptian woman, was surrounded by a circle of attackers on the same day as the British reporter and stripped naked before volunteers intervened and took her to a safe house near Tahrir Square. Since June 28, 186 attacks on women have been reported, according to grassroots groups patrolling Tahrir Square. The attacks include sexual harassment, violent assaults and gang rapes.
“What I am sure about is that the number [of attacks] is increasing,” Najara says with a sigh. “And I don’t know how we’re going to stop it.”
Human Rights Watch has called the latest outbreak of sexual violence “an epidemic.”
“The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces,” said Joe Stork, the deputy director for Middle East at Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in public life.”
Women and minorities, who have been increasingly vulnerable since the January 2011 uprising, face new risks and threats of violence, including sexual assaults by extremely large groups of men.
“There are now organized sexual attacks in the square, they use weapons, raping old women over 60 years old,” says Yasmine el-Baramawy, an activist and survivor of sexual assault. “This never happened before.”
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