CAIRO: Over 250 people protested in front of the Press Syndicate on Thursday calling on the government to be held accountable for the allegedly widespread sexual harassment downtown during the Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
Surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and armored vehicles, the crowd was composed of women from all walks of life, including Egyptian and foreign students, veiled elderly women, bloggers and activists. Many men were also present, chanting and holding banners.
Organized by the Liberties Committee of the Press Syndicate, the Egyptian Committee for Women’s Rights, Kefaya and Nehdet El-Mahrousa, the crowd criticized Kasr El-Nil police station and also called for the resignation of both Interior Minister Habib Al-Adli and President Hosni Mubarak.
“This means we are not going to be pushed off the street, said Aida Seif El-Dawla, a member of activist organization The Street is Ours and a professor of psychology at Ain Shams University.
“This is what we said after the harassment of May 25; it is what we are saying now and it is what we are saying tomorrow.
“The street belongs to the citizens and we have the right to walk in it without fear. We should all live in safety and freedom.
Banners and chants echoed this demand, with placards demanding greater legal and police protections against sexual harassment.
“The police protect Mubarak! demonstrators chanted. “The police protect his heir! The police protect corruption! The police do not protect the people!
The Eid incidents were first reported by bloggers who claimed that they saw hundreds of men chasing and groping women in the streets of downtown Cairo during the Eid.
According to witnesses, the mob attacked women regardless of their dress, ripping off their veils and clothes. Eyewitnesses said that even women who were accompanied by their husbands weren’t spared after their husbands were beaten and pushed aside. During the Eid, Kasr El-Nil police station denied that any such attacks took place.
“It’s true, it happened, said Mustafa, who works at a juice shop on Talaat Harb Street. “I hid some girls in my store myself.
The incidents were reported in other local and international media in the weeks that followed.
Mohamed Gamal, a blogger who witnessed the incident in front of Metro Cinema argues that the Egyptian government should be held accountable for its failure to protect the people.
“It is the duty of our government to provide security to all Egyptian citizens, he says. “The security forces are only protecting the regime instead of the Egyptian people.
“Today we are surrounded by security, he said, gesturing toward the lines of riot police encircling the protestors. “The security forces are simply protecting the regime, and not the people.
But Khaled Sallam, a student at AUC, said he could not hold the government directly responsible for the alleged incidents.
“I think there is a state of moral bankruptcy in Egypt, and I think it is caused by the restrictions on pre-marital sex.
Holding a megaphone, women shared their experiences of sexual harassment with the crowd.
“At first I thought it was just us, said Kelly Kerr, an American student studying in Cairo, “But then I realized it happens to everyone. We came here because we want to help our Egyptian friends.
“People try to give different reasons for why this happens – delayed marriage, sexual repression. I don’t care. Whatever conditions men are under, women are under the same conditions. There is no excuse for their behavior, said Nour El-Tahawy, a veiled middle-aged Egyptian.