fb-pixel

Egypt’s women are rising up against sexual violence. Others are still being jailed for TikTok videos.

CAIRO — Scores of Egyptian women have been raising their voices in recent weeks, detailing their sexual assaults on social media, exposing a young student, human rights activists, and others.

Alleged abusers have been detained. Under pressure, the government has approved a measure to protect victims’ identities.

It is all part of a reckoning viewed by many Egyptians as their #MeToo movement.

Then there is the case of Menna Abdel Aziz. In May, the teenager posted a TikTok video of herself sobbing, her face bruised and swollen, saying she had been raped. Instead of treating her as a victim, authorities jailed her, charging her with ‘‘debauchery’’ for wearing clothes they deemed immoral, and misusing social media.

Advertisement



Even as women are coming forward to confront their attackers in an unprecedented fashion, others are getting arrested merely for expressing themselves.

Justice remains uneven for women and often hinges on their social class and wealth. An inadequate penal code, low prosecutions of sexual attackers, weak sexual harassment policies, and harsh morality laws have worked to silence women, say women’s rights advocates.

‘‘This is certainly a significant moment,’’ said Mai El-Sadany, managing director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy in Washington. ‘‘We are seeing victims and survivors in so many different contexts, from the university setting to doctors’ offices to the human rights field, publicly sharing stories of sexual harassment, assault and violence in an effort to galvanize structural change.’’

She added, ‘‘It is too early to say how this moment may affect Egyptian society and systems in the long term, and there is still much to be done.’’

On July 1, women in Egypt took to social media accusing an affluent Egyptian student of rapes and sexual assaults. By the end of the day, nearly 50 accusers had come forward, eventually exceeding more than 100, according to @assaultpolice, an Instagram and Twitter account set up by activists to collect testimonies.

Advertisement



The alleged assaults and harassment began in 2016, according to women on social media. Some women, including minors, said they met the young man in person or online when he was studying at an elite international high school. Others crossed paths with him at the American University in Cairo, the country’s most prestigious university.

Within days, he was expelled from the European Union Business School in Barcelona, where he was taking online courses. The school filed a complaint with Spanish authorities urging an investigation.

After the social media fury, Egyptian authorities arrested the man. In a statement, the country’s prosecutor said the man confessed to meeting at least six young women online on social media platforms.

The prosecutor made other allegations, which he said the young man denied, including that he threatened to send revealing photos of them to their families if they did not have sex with him or if they left the relationship. Prosecutors said they were also investigating additional allegations, including rape and indecent assault by force or threats.

Since the young man’s arrest, other alleged sexual offenders have been exposed. They included Mohamed Nagy, a well-known activist, who was dismissed by his organization after it said he confessed to sexually harassing women on his Facebook page.

Another rights group said it suspended an employee for sexual misconduct, and authorities detained a well-known publisher after he was accused of sexual harassment, which he denied in a Facebook post. Victims have also opened up about being abused at other elite schools and in churches.

Advertisement



In a rare public statement, the nation’s Al-Azhar establishment, the Sunni Muslim world’s authority on religious life and Islamic education, spoke out against sexual harassment. Al-Azhar encouraged women to report crimes and denounced the targeting of women for wearing clothing that might be considered suggestive.

The social media campaign also prompted the government to amend the country’s criminal law to give judges the authority to protect the identity and personal details of sexual assault victims. The bill, which has been submitted to parliament for approval, raises hopes that more women will come forward to expose abuses.

Then there are the recent arrests over TikTok videos. Since April 23, authorities have targeted a number of women, accusing them of spreading immorality and debauchery and of violating Egyptian family values. Their crime: dancing and wearing what the authorities deemed were suggestive or revealing clothes.

At least nine women remain in custody.