CAIRO: The first sexual harassment case to be taken to court in Egypt ended with a landmark three-year jail sentence for the accused at the North Cairo courthouse in Abbasiya Tuesday morning.
Sherief Gomaa Gibrial, a driver, was sentenced to three years imprisonment and fined LE 5,001 in the first incident of a sexual harassment case being taken to an Egyptian criminal court.
All the more remarkable was that the sentence was handed out in the first hearing.
The claimant, Noha Roushdy, told Daily News Egypt the day before the ruling that she pursued the case in court because it was time to attempt to bring to an end the daily harassment women are subjected to on the streets of Cairo.
The verdict was passed quickly in one of the four main halls of the Abbasiya courthouse, wherein every hall hears up to 150 cases in the morning session alone, therefore the special nature of the ruling was not recognized amidst the hustle and bustle.
A statement from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights applauded the decision, considering it a benchmark which would help enshrine the criminalization of such acts.
“This sentence sends a message to all segments of Egyptian society that sexual harassment is a crime and will not be tolerated. Within the legal community, the court’s decision restores confidence in Egyptian law’s ability to appropriately address such crimes, it read.
“The sentence will also encourage participation in the dialogue on developing a legal definition of sexual harassment and the need to formulate laws criminalizing it in the Egyptian Penal Code, it continued.
The harassment incident itself took place last June, at 5:30 in the afternoon in Heliopolis as Rushdy and a friend were walking down a street near her house. Gibrial was driving by and suddenly swerved in front of them blocking their route.
He got out of his vehicle and proceeded to assault Roushdy in broad daylight. He then entered his vehicle and drove off, but not before turning around to give her a smile. Roushdy pursued him to the point where she jumped onto the boot of his car.
Eventually people gathered round but many of the passersby chastised Roushdy for making a fuss, urging her to let him go and some even said that it was the dress of her and other girls that were to blame for the incident. Undeterred, Roushdy called the police and Gibrial was taken into custody and she decided to press charges.
The ruling can be seen as the precedent needed to finally effectively counter the widespread prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt which in recent years has increased at an alarming rate.
Roushdy had stressed the importance of her case and had added that “media coverage is very important to help highlight the importance of the issue it encapsulates.
The ECWR said, “For women, the success of the victim in this case will encourage others to report incidences of sexual harassment. For potential harassers, the sentence will deter them from abusing women’s rights to personal safety and freedom from sexual harassment.
Currently, a group of men in custody for the incidents of sexual harassment that occurred in Mohandiseen this past Eid have been detained for a further 15 days pending further investigation.
Women’s groups have attributed the increase in harassment of women – both in frequency and nature – to the 2005 presidential election when government thugs assaulted female journalists at demonstrations and were not held accountable.
“ECWR believes that this sentence will restore confidence in the legal system’s ability to defend women subjected to such crimes, in every step of the process – from filing police reports, to investigation, to sentencing. Women can now rest assured that their rights will be protected, the statement said.