Women’s rights campaigners in Egypt have reported that at least 25 women have been sexually assaulted in clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square since violence erupted last week, the Guardian newspaper wrote on its website on Monday.
Fifty people have died in five days of clashes between police and protesters opposed to the government of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi and frustrated by a faltering economy. Protesters accuse Mursi of hijacking the revolution two years after the ouster of long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak.
On Sunday, Mursi declared a state of emergency in three cities along the Suez Canal - Port Said, Ismailia and Suez – that have seen some of the fiercest fighting.
The army has been deployed in two of those cities, and the cabinet approved a measure allowing soldiers to arrest civilians, Reuters reported.
The sexual assaults happened in Tahrir Square, according to a report in the Guardian.
"This Friday was one of the worst that we have witnessed (for sexual assaults)," the British newspaper quoted Leil-Zahra Mortada, a spokeswoman for Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH), as saying.
"All of the cases were really, really bad," Mortada told the Guardian. "But the worst case that we dealt with involved a bladed weapon being used on the private parts of an assaulted woman."
EASY PREY AMID CHAOS
Established late last year to rescue assault victims from Cairo’s main square, OpAntiSH said it had rescued 16 women, while Tahrir Bodyguard, another group with the same mission, said it had helped nine.
Both groups received reports of several more attacks.
Women are easy prey during large demonstrations like those last weekend in Cairo, where chaos and confusion reign. Attackers typically surround isolated women, grope them and try to tear off their clothes.
OpAntiSH operates a hotline to assist assault victims. When it receives a call, the organisation sends mixed-gender rescue teams equipped with flares to keep assailants at a distance as they try to reach the women in danger.
They then take them to nearby safe houses, where the victims receive medical, psychological and legal support, the Guardian reported.
Sexual harassment is an endemic problem in Egypt, made worse by a failure to prosecute perpetrators. A 2008 report by the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights revealed that 83 percent of the country’s women have experienced some form of sexual harassment.
Last year, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced that his cabinet was working on a law to combat harassment on the streets.