Egyptian survivors and victims of sexual assault and harassment are using social media to shame alleged abusers and demand change as the country witnesses a wave of online outrage targeting rape culture and sexual assault.
Finding limited options, a growing number of social media accounts instead gather survivors’ testimony and attempt to shame alleged attackers online, as elite perpetrators routinely go unpunished.
“Right now the only way to fight this issue is online and through these social media pages,” said Ahmed, a Canada-based administrator of the Instagram account “harassers of Cairo”. The Guardian is choosing not to give his full name.
“There’s corruption; if your father is wealthy and powerful you get away with things very easily. Online is the only way right now.”
Campaigners and feminist activists say Egyptian law provides limited recourse on matters of sexual assault and harassment, and that survivors face an uphill struggle to report such experiences, as well as social consequences.
Despite recent changes including a draft law to anonymise survivor testimony in court and new methods to submit testimony electronically to Egypt’s public prosecution office, observers say there is still far to go before survivors feel comfortable reporting their experiences to police.
More than 99.3% of Egyptian women and girls surveyed in 2013 reported experiencing some form of harassment.
Even as the Egyptian authorities shifted their stance on reporting sexual assault, eight female TikTok influencers were arrested between April and July charged with “immorality”, “debauchery” and “violating Egyptian family values”.
One influencer was arrested along with her alleged attackers, and accused of “promoting debauchery” after stating on TikTok that they sexually assaulted her.
The prosecutor mandated her to spend a period of pre-trial detention in a social rehabilitation centre for abused women, where she is prevented from leaving the premises.
“It’s clear the state and society are saying that there are some ‘good women’ worth protecting, from a patriarchal perspective, and there are ‘bad women’ like these women on TikTok,” said Mozn Hassan, the founder of the Cairo-based organisation Nazra for Feminist Studies.
She pointed to examples of the authorities arresting feminist activists and targeting NGOs such as Nazra, which includes a travel ban for Hassan herself.
Meanwhile the social media activism has provoked rare results, even from conservative institutions. “I thought I’d done everything possible quietly and privately, respectfully and patiently – all of that didn’t work. Going public was my only other option,” said Sally Zakhari, who used social media to share her account of sexual abuse perpetrated by Reweiss Aziz Khalil, a Coptic priest from a diocese in Egypt’s south now based in the US. She said the abuse took place when she was about 12 years old.
Zakhari waited six months after an internal report on Khalil’s conduct was delivered to the Coptic pope, Tawadros II. Hearing no further action against Khalil was likely, she shared her story online.
The resulting public outcry led the Coptic church to defrock Khalil via a papal decree in July, although he was already defrocked in 2014 but continued to practice.
Zakhari said the church’s response was insufficient and more survivors would come forward.
A groundswell of online anger also led to the arrest of an accused rapist, Ahmed BassamZaki, last month. Testimonies gathered by an Instagram account called “assaultpolice” accused Zaki, a 22-year-old from an elite family, of raping and harassing more than 100 women, including girls as young as 14.
“Assaultpolice” continued to gather testimony, focusing on six wealthy men accused of gang-raping underage women in a central Cairo hotel.
But administrators of the Instagram account said they were forced to close it due to threats. This led others, including Ahmed, to start at least four other accounts to continue the campaign.
Ahmed said he was running one of his Instagram accounts with two male friends, after the group grew concerned that few men were assisting Egyptian women speaking up about harassment. “I don’t think there’s a lot of guys helping with this issue so we started a page for that,” he said.
Hassan said the social media pages were using the internet in lieu of civil society, long targeted by the Egyptian state.
“Egypt doesn’t have a public sphere, it’s really closed,” she said. “You don’t have NGOs, you don’t have places to hang out, you don’t have politics to reach people and engage them, so social media became the alternative public sphere.” (Source: The Guardian)