CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian authorities have arrested seven men for sexually harassing women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square while thousands celebrated the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Interior Ministry said on Monday.
A video posted on YouTube on Sunday, claiming to depict one of the Tahrir assaults, showed a naked woman with injuries on her hip being dragged through a large crowd at night towards an ambulance. The footage caused an uproar.
It is not clear whether her attackers were among those arrested for Sunday’s violence.
Last week Egypt issued a new law which punishes sexual harassment with at least six months in jail or fines of at least 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($420). Judicial sources said the arrests were made under the new law.
Former army chief Sisi, who ousted President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood after mass protests against his rule last summer, has spoken of the importance of women in Egyptian society without discussing specific plans.
Sexual assault was rampant at demonstrations during and after the 2011 uprising against then-president Hosni Mubarak and is common at large gatherings in Egypt. Local activists and foreign journalists are among those who have been attacked.
“In the framework of security efforts to protect the celebrations in the squares yesterday on June 8, the security apparatus was able to arrest all (seven men) for harassing a number of women,” the ministry said in a statement posted on Facebook.
It listed the names of the men, aged 15 to 49, and the areas where they lived. Prosecutors are detaining them for four days pending investigations, judicial sources said. Two of the men admitted beating a woman, while five denied any wrongdoing and said the women had provoked them, the sources added.
Sexual harassment, high rates of female genital cutting and a surge in violence after the Arab Spring uprisings have made Egypt the worst country in the Arab world to be a woman, a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey showed late last year.
The state news agency MENA reported that the public prosecutor was listening to the statements of victims and suspects, and had ordered forensic examinations for the women.
It said initial investigations revealed that “criminal elements...had harassed some of the women in the square...in an attempt to spoil the celebrations”.
A Western male user on Facebook described the YouTube video as “horrible beyond words”.
“The frenzy in the scene is truly terrifying. And the situation for women in this country has long been appalling, and it simply has to change,” he added.
A U.N. report on women last year said 99.3 percent of women and girls had been subjected to sexual harassment in Egypt, which some analysts say reflects a general rise in violence in Egyptian society over the past half-decade.
Many say Egyptian society as a whole needs to take sexual harassment more seriously. One female television presenter on a private channel giggled when her colleague mentioned the harassment in Tahrir. The people were simply “happy”, she said.
“People on the ground believe that these cases are organized attacks,” said a female reporter interacting with the anchor.
“But aside from that it will not, in any way, affect the celebrations of Egyptians for Sisi’s inauguration,” she added with a smile.
($1 = 7.1501 Egyptian Pounds)
Additional reporting by Asma Alsharif and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Michael Georgy and Mark Heinrich