Egyptian police on Monday arrested seven men for sexually assaulting a 19-year-old student during celebrations marking the inauguration of the country's new president in Cairo's central Tahrir Square the day before, security officials said.
The student has been hospitalized after she was attacked on Sunday, said the officials, who gave no details on her condition. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
- Egypt's el-Sissi sworn in, vows no reconciliation with Islamists
- Nahlah Ayed: The renewed fight for women's rights in Egypt
- Activists map sexual assaults in Egypt
Sexual harassment has been one of Egypt's enduring social ills, prompting authorities last week to issue a decree declaring it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.
The Interior Ministry, in charge of police, identified the seven in a statement, giving their ages between 15 and 49. It said they were arrested for "harassing several girls" but made no mention of the student. A policeman was injured while the seven were being arrested, the ministry added.
Video allegedly shows victim after attack
No further details emerged from the police about Sunday's attack. Video footage posted on social media shows the student completely naked, parts of her body bloodied as policemen struggle to escort her out of Tahrir Square where tens of thousands were celebrating the inauguration of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi as the nation's new president late into the night. The video appeared authentic and was consistent with AP reporting of the incident.
The video has shocked and created a stir, along with another clip posted on social networking sites, showing a reporter for a private TV network reporting from Tahrir and telling her anchorwoman in the studio that there were several cases of sexual harassment in the square during the inaugural celebrations.
The anchorwoman laughs, then says it's "because they are happy."
There have been many incidents of sexual harassment during large gatherings of demonstrators in Tahrir in recent years. The square was the epicentre of the 2011 uprising that topped the longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and has since been the focal point of most large political rallies in the Egyptian capital.
The anti-sexual harassment decree from last week, issued by former, interim president Adly Mansour, amended Egypt's current laws on the abuse, which did not criminalize sexual harassment and only vaguely referred to such offences as "indecent assault."
The new law says those convicted face between six months to five years in prison, with the maximum punishment reserved for offenders holding a position of power over their victims, such as being a woman's boss at work or being armed. Offenders would be prosecuted whether they commit harassment in public or private, and repeat offenders would see their sentences doubled, the decree said. Along with the maximum five-year sentence, offenders would be fined up to about $763 Cnd.
Sexual harassment initiatives growing
Last year, a joint report by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Egypt's Demographic Centre and the National Planning Institute found that more than 99 per cent of hundreds of women surveyed in seven of the country's 27 provinces reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor harassment to rape.
The breakdown in the police force in the wake of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak left the streets even more unsafe for women.
Over the past three years, including under the year-long rule of Mubarak's successor, Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, there have been multiple mass sexual assaults on women during political protests.
Initiatives to counter harassment also multiplied. Volunteer groups started escorting women, especially during political gatherings. Activists offered self-defence classes for women and social networking sites launched "name and shame" campaigns.
However, many say harassment will continue as long as Egypt's conservative Muslim society discriminates against women, accusing them of dressing immodestly and mixing with men in public and thus provoking harassment.