Video Of Mob-Fueled Sexual Assaults Outrages Egyptians

Egypt's chief prosecutor has ordered three men arrested in connection with the assaults in Tahrir Square over the weekend to be put on trial immediately. Graphic video has been made public.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Egypt, an ugly attack is overshadowing the inauguration, earlier this week, of the country's new president. As people gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square to celebrate, a group of men stripped, beat and sexually assaulted a woman, apparently, in front of her daughter. This attack was captured in a graphic video that has been posted on social media.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

GREENE: Seven men have now been arrested in this attack. Human rights activists say, nine women were assaulted, in the square, last week. NPR's Leila Fadel joins us from Cairo to talk about this. Leila, good morning.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: All right, Leila, the tape we just heard, that is not the only attack into the Tahrir Square, last week. I mean, tell us what happened here.

FADEL: Well, basically when there are huge crowds of revelers or protesters in Tahrir Square, we have seen that women are being assaulted. This video shows a woman in the center of dozens of men, a policeman trying to get through to her. But by the time he gets to her, she's bruised. She's bloodied. And she's naked. And this is something that's been going on now for years, with very little response from the government and very little accountability for the men that are doing this.

GREENE: So if this type of behavior is common in Egypt, this not just an isolated incident, an isolated day, what is driving this?

FADEL: Well, we've seen sexual violence against women in the square, since 2011. And women who've spoken up about it have been somewhat shamed publicly, blamed as the victim. There's a problem with endemic sexual harassment, throughout Egypt, as if women, who are walking around in public, in some ways, deserve to be harassed or assaulted. And this is pre-2011, as well - plainclothes police and thugs actually stripped and beat and assaulted women, in 2005. It's known, I think, as Black Wednesday. But now, after this video, it's being talked about.

GREENE: Well, and Leila, you say there have been complaints about the government not doing enough here. We should say, last week, the government in Egypt made sexual harassment a crime for the first time. Do women's rights groups and other groups say this is a good sign?

FADEL: Well, it's a step in the right direction, they say. You know, rape has already been a crime here, for a long time. You know, the issue is, is there's a lack of accountability and a tendency to blame the victim. The president, this week, said, that the Ministry of Interior should do everything in its power to bring these men to justice. But he's also the same president that defended forced virginity tests under military rule, in 2012. It's also become very politicized issue. Where supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood are saying, it's the moral degradation under CC's rule. And supporters of this new administration saying, it's because of the way that the Muslim Brotherhood treated women under their rule. When, in fact, it's been a problem for years now. Where, instead of dealing with the issue at hand, violence against women in public places and an acceptance of it, in some ways, a blaming of the victim has already become a political issue.

GREENE: I mean, Leila, I have to ask, what kind of chilling effect might there be here? I mean, women, you know, just feeling like they can't go to public rallies, can't go in public, if this might happen.

FADEL: Of course, it has a huge effect on women, when they have seen others being assaulted, bruised and bloodied in crowds of men, where it's difficult to get anybody in there to help you get out. So, of course, fewer women want to end up at these rallies. But it isn't stopping everyone. And there is an anti-rape rally planned for Saturday to say, this is enough. We're not going to take this in the streets.

GREENE: OK, we've been speaking to NPR's Leila Fadel about acts of sexual assault in Cairo's Tahrir Square and throughout Egypt. Leila, thank you.

FADEL: Thank you.

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