A mob of about 30 men has turned "crazy" and groped and robbed a French television journalist near Tahrir Square in Cairo, in the latest case of violence against women at the epicentre of Egypt's protests.
France 24 news station said in a statement that Sonia Dridi was attacked about 10:30pm on Friday after a live broadcast on a protest at the square and was later rescued by a colleague and other witnesses.
Sexual harassment is a 20-year problem here, but now there's a feeling of impunity and the knowledge that the police won't do anything about it, it breeds this culture of lawlessness
The station said its employees were safe and sound, though "extremely shocked".
"More frightened than hurt," wrote Dridi in French on her Twitter page on Saturday.
Referring in English to a colleague, she tweeted: "Thanks to @ashrafkhalil for protecting me in #Tahrir last nite. Mob was pretty intense. thanks to him I escaped from the unleashed hands."
Later she wrote: "Thks everyone for support, shocking but I'm OK. Could have been [worse]. Crowd out of control, guys took advantage of it but kept my clothes on.
"We lost our bags in the 'fight'. Very luckily, mine was found by a brave Egyptian guy a few hours later. He took it from the hands of thugs."
Ashraf Khalil, a colleague who works with France 24's English language service, said the crowd was closing in on him and Dridi while they were doing live reports on a side street off Tahrir.
"The crowd surged in and then it went crazy. It was basically me keeping her in a bear hug, both arms around her and face-to-face," he told The Associated Press, estimating that at least 30 men were involved.
"It was hard to tell who was helping and who was groping her."
Khalil said they retreated into a fast food restaurant called Hardee's, which had a metal door, to keep her out of the reach of the attackers.
He told The Guardian: "What was depressing is that the employees inside Hardee's knew exactly what to do because this seems to happen all the time.
"Some terrified woman running in one step ahead of a mob."
Khalil said the doors were locked and when he later went out to hail a taxi and usher Dridi out, there were men banging on the bonnet of the car.
"Sexual harassment is a 20-year problem here, but now there's a feeling of impunity and the knowledge that the police won't do anything about it, it breeds this culture of lawlessness.
"There are always good Samaritans in the crowd but crowds can be stupid and when it tips, it tips.
"[However] there were several other guys who helped and we couldn't have done it without them, we have to remember that."
Some of their belongings had been stolen, he said.
"It didn't feel organised or targeted. It felt disorganised," he said.
"I felt angry. I love Tahrir. I have a lot of nostalgia for Tahrir. I am still angry. I know this is not the first time this happened; it happened to other people I know. Still, it was a shock."
He said the attack and rescue took about half an hour, but it felt like a lot longer.
Tahrir Square was the main hub of a popular uprising that toppled longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last year. Since then, it has seen numerous other protests staged by a range of groups.
At the height of the uprising against Mubarak, Lara Logan, a correspondent for US network CBS, was sexually assaulted and beaten in Tahrir Square. She said later that she believed she was going to die.
After being rescued, Logan returned to the US and was treated in a hospital for four days.
Logan told The New York Daily News her "heart goes out" to Dridi.
"Sexual violence is a way of denying women journalists access to the story in Egypt," Logan said.
"It's not accidental. It's by design."
British journalist Natasha Smith of the Fair Observer also reported being sexually assaulted by a mob near Tahrir Square.
The square has seen a rise in attacks against women since protesters returned this summer for new rallies, including incidents of attackers stripping women - both fellow demonstrators and journalists - of their clothes.
No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area and women rarely file official reports on such incidents, but activists and protesters have reported an increase in assaults against women.
And although sexual harassment is not new to Egypt, suspicions abound that many of the recent attacks are organised by opponents of various protests in a bid to drive people away.
Amnesty International said in a report in June that such attacks appeared designed to intimidate women and prevent them from fully participating in public life.
The London-based human rights group has called on Egyptian authorities to investigate reports of sexual assault against women to counter the impression that no one will be punished.
AP with smh.com.au