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07/03/2013

Cairo's Tahrir Square no place to be a woman: 91 assaults in last four days

The public space which symbolizes Egyptians’ struggle to free themselves from the shackles of despotic rule has been a nasty, dangerous place for women. 

Human Rights Watch’s report today claims at least 91 women have been sexually assaulted – ranging from being groped to rape – in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during four days of anti-government protests. On June 28 there were five attacks, on June 30, there were 46 attacks,  17 on July 1, and 23 on July 2.  

 Tahrir Square is badly lit. The other part of the problem is that police are not patrolling the square during large demonstrations because they are trying to avoid clashes with protesters which potentially could fuel even more violence. As a result, Human Rights Watch said, women are unprotected and the men involved know they will not be arrested.

 Few victims are publicly speaking out but the testimony of one who is bravely doing just that, 30-year-old Yasmine El Baramawy, a musician, is shocking. She told the rights group that last November a gang of men knocked her to the ground, and cut her blouse and bra. She was surrounded by 100 men.   

“At the height of the attack, I looked up and saw 30 individuals on a fence. All of them had smiling faces, and they were recording me with their cellphones. They saw a naked woman, covered in sewage, who was being assaulted and beaten, and I don’t know what was funny about that. This is a question that I’m still thinking about, I can’t stop my mind from thinking about it.” 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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