Brutal sex attacks in Egyptian capital

Last updated 12:48 04/07/2013
Tahrir Square

SCENE OF ATTACKS: Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi gather near a lit flare at Tahrir Square on July 1.

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Human rights and women's groups have condemned the "horrific levels" of sexual violence against women in Cairo's Tahrir Square, with reports of 101 sex attacks amid the latest wave of protests that led to the toppling of Egypt's first freely elected president Mohamed Morsi.

The brutality of the assaults, which included many rapes, was unprecedented and far surpassed reports of sex attacks occurring during previous public protests in and around Cairo's central square, which was the epicentre of the 2011 revolution, the groups said.

Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, a volunteer vigilante group formed to physically rescue women in Tahrir Square, said some female protesters had been raped with knives and sharp objects, while others were beaten with sticks and kidnapped in vehicles.

Some women also were reportedly beaten with metal chains and chairs, with some attacks lasting up to 45 minutes.

It came as Egypt's military on Wednesday ousted Morsi, suspended the Islamist-backed constitution and called for an early presidential election following days of mass protests in Tahrir Square. Morsi rejected the military intervention as a "complete military coup".

A joint statement released by seven human rights and feminist organisations on Wednesday documented 101 sex attacks "of varying intensity" in and around Tahrir Square between June 28 and July 3.

One of those organisations, Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, tweeted that "the seriousness of the assaults ranged from mob sexual harassment & assault, to raping female protesters using knives & sharp objects".

The statement detailing the assaults was released shortly before the toppling of Morsi, and further reports of sex assault continued to flow in, according to Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, which reported at least 45 mob sex assaults in Tahrir on Wednesday alone.

The group had intervened in 30 of those cases, including four that it classified as severe.

The statement accused Egyptian authorities of using the sexual assaults to "smear" the opposition's demonstrations, which marked "the rock bottom of the official rhetoric of state institutions".

It added that the assaults were an "extension to years of neglecting sexual crimes against women and the usage of these crimes by successive authorities ... to punish women for their presence in the public space".

The statement was signed by Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment, Nazra for Feminist Studies, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, New Woman Foundation, Tahrir Bodyguard, and Women and Memory Forum.

Separately, Human Rights Watch released its own statement detailing reported incidents of women who were beaten with metal chains, sticks, chairs, and attacked with knives.

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In some cases they were assaulted for as long as 45 minutes before they could escape.

"The rampant sexual attacks during the Tahrir Square protests highlight the failure of the government and all political parties to face up to the violence that women in Egypt experience on a daily basis in public spaces," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"These are serious crimes that are holding women back from participating fully in the public life of Egypt at a critical point in the country's development."

One of the reported victims of the past week's violence was a 22-year-old Dutch journalist, who underwent surgery after she was attacked by five men in Tahrir Square on Friday night.

The Dutch Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying: "The Netherlands Embassy has assisted the victim, and after receiving emergency treatment in a Cairo hospital she was repatriated to the Netherlands in the company of family.

"The victim has cooperated with an investigation started by the Egyptian authorities. In the interest of the privacy of the victim no further information will be given."

Some reports suggest the woman was an intern with an Egyptian organisation and had gone to Tahrir Square to take photos of the demonstrations when she was set upon by a mob.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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