Egyptian Police Abusing Power and Involved in Cases of Sexual Harassment
By Muhammad Mansour, December 2014
Sexual harassment frenzy in Egypt took a deeper turn as policemen have abused their authority and assaulted a sexual harassment survivor in Minya province, 245 kilometers south of Cairo. However the Egyptian government issued a decree in June penalizing sexual harassers from six-month to five-year jail terms in response to the increasingly continued phenomenon, yet, the law enforcement personnel seems careless and in several cases are abusing their power to be the harassers.
On Sunday, prosecutors in Minya have ordered detaining nine policemen 15 days pending investigations over charges of sexually harassing a woman and preventing her from reporting the incident. The story began when an 18-year-old girl named Sabah fled a forced marriage by her father in Mit Ghamr, a village north east of Cairo. Yet, her escape from the north to the south was a journey that rather took her from bad to worse.
In Minya, one of Egypt’s conservative provinces where sectarian strife between Christians and Muslims is rampant, a taxi driver who gave her a ride had allegedly attempted to sexually assault her, taking advantage that she is unaccompanied, newcomer and desperately looking for a safe accommodation. At this point, according to her account in the prosecution report, published in Al-Masry Al-Youm, she was rescued by two covert police sergeants who were patrolling the neighborhood where the sexual harassment occurred.
Yet, she faced a larger risk when policemen took her to a brothel run by a female pimp. While there, the two sergeants tried to sexually assault her amidst a repeated pressure from the pimp to have sex for money. After escaping from the brothel, she reported the incident to the Minya police station where the two sergeants work, but seven other policemen refused to include her statement in an official report claiming that she was making it up.
Ultimately, the head of the police station’s Chief Detective officially reported the incident and referred it to the prosecution.
Several incidents were reported recently about sexual harassment and abuse of power by police. In September prosecutor-general referred a 40-year-old policeman to a court trial over charges of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old mentally ill female detainee. Two other inmates confirmed the incident to the prosecution.
Sexual harassment mutation to sexual violence
A 2013 United Nations study suggested that 99.3% of Egyptian women had experienced some form of sexual harassment. However the practice was common in Egypt for a long time, let alone it exists all over the world, but it recently mutated in Egypt from a mere catcall to a more physical assault, random act of sexual violence and culminated to a mass rape even in public.
Several survivors said that harassers held sharp tools such as knives or acids which meant to harm women who are spotted by harassers wearing tight clothes, others pointed out that harassers sadistically felt relief when inflicting pain or seriously wounding the targeted women. Last December, 23-year-old Esraa Ali was a survivor of a random sexual violence when she found out a harasser following and staring at her. The worst when he threw sulfuric acid at her buttocks which caused serious burns in her back and gangrene which required a skin grafting operation.
“The doctor told me that this substance is highly dangerous and corrosive and this person was not throwing it randomly but he deliberated intended it,” said Ali to Egypt Independent report last December.
Hannah Murphy a British documentary maker from London said when she was on a visit to Cairo she was shocked when she saw a guy at a corner of a street in Zamalek, trying to draw her attention, showing her his dick while he was masturbating.
“So worn down by sexual harassment, not just day-by-day but minute-by-minute, when out on the street. It almost feels like being punished for leaving the house” Louisa loveluck, British journalist posted on Facebook.
A harasser profile
At Ezbet Elshaal, a slum area in Mansoura city, 32-year-old Ali Ibrahim (not his real name) and three others have raped a girl in rotations. In the poverty-stricken neighborhood, Ali started flirting with girls when he was 15 years old.
“When I was at school, I saw my colleagues touching the passing bye female students at the nearby Islamic University, I joined them for fun, plus I had an erection from just touching a girl even if it was randomly and quickly” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim is graduate of Al-Azhar school, an Islamic school where there is separation between female and male students in class. His father is Imam of a mosque, his mother is a housewife. For him, during this young age, he knew nothing about sex education which is a taboo to talk about either in school or back home. He dropped out of his Arabic Language College as he saw most graduates are jobless, he had no job for almost five years, during this time, he began smoking cigarettes, and then his friends encouraged him to take drugs and drink. But this did not help him to overcome the feeling of depression he had as a result of his inability to afford marriage since he is not even working.
“I asked for a hand of a girl I liked in the neighborhood, she also liked me and we developed a love relationship, however I never dated her as her family were strict but we spent almost six months communicating through face book and phone calls” Ibrahim said.
One day he decided to go to her family to ask for her hand, her father rejected him for not affording renting an apartment that meet the father’s requirements.
“I was very heart broken, the revolution did nothing to us, but otherwise made it worse”. Ali said.
There was no way out to express his repressed sexual desires except either drinking and taking drugs or flirting verbally with girls he thinks they are sexy. For the rape incident, Ali said she was an easy target “I thought she was a prostitute, but later on I found out that she is just looking for a place, she told me she was divorced and was fleeing her family, and she trusted me, I took her to an apartment owned by a friend of mine, who called others and they expressed their desires to have sex with her, we did it however we did not enjoy it, one of my friends who joined us is married” Ali said.
“Yet, we did not enjoy it” Ali said in a regretting voice.
Policemen share in the sexual harassment epidemic
“I was groped and touched in some sensitive areas in my body in Alexandria resort last summer by a bunch of kids, the police arrested one of the kids who is around 16 years old and the policeman strongly advised me to drop the case as the kid’s future will be ruined when he is convicted and put in jail” Asmaa Mahmoud said “however I was traumatized, I had to drop the case and the harasser went unpunished” she said.
According to a survey carried out by Egypt Independent, 95 percent of young female respondents believed that law enforcement personnel was not their best resort when it comes to sexual harassment as they felt that police either do not believe their stories, or sympathize with harassers or would just abuse their authority to harass them.
In an Op-ed, Farah Youssry, editor of Egypt Independent, gave a first-hand account of an incident when she was verbally harassed by a policeman at the doorstep of the US embassy in Cairo, however she was in company of her husband, but it did not stop a high-ranking policeman harassing her and when a diplomat offered to help, he was apologetic saying “Oh, the Egyptian officers? I am sorry but we can’t do anything about that.”
In another incident, she was requested to pull over her car, and she was shocked when a policeman asked her if she is single or not.
Pilar Cerbian, a Spanish journalist based in Cairo was physically harassed by motorcyclists in downtown Cairo, harassers snatched her bag during the day time and dragged her on the sidewalk, causing serious bruises in her body, and when she went to Abdeen police station downtown to report the incident, a policeman advised her not to report the incident as harassers would not be fined.
In a TV phone interview with anchor Tamr Amin, the caller said his wife has called police to complain about unidentified phone harasser, when she called the number 122, the policeman harassed her and offered her his personal phone number to call him.
Alaa Kamel, half Egyptian, half American who lives in California and go to Egypt frequently said she is panicked when she walks in the street and she always walk in the company of one of her male relatives.
“Police in Egypt needs a training of how to work for the people rather than the regime, for three decades under Mubrak, police have been acting on the belief that their role is not to deal with the people, and after the revolution, the army took that role” said Kamel.
“If we put every harasser in jail, all people in the country would have to be detained” said a policeman with reference to Pilar’s harassment incident.