Trigger Warning: This piece contains material
about sexual assault.
Written by: Nada Kheir
Edited by: Nisha Rajoo
Sexual harassment and violence directly affect 99% of Egyptian girls and women. Survivors tend to stay silent when subjected to this type of harassment and abuse due to the patriarchal and sexist beliefs that are heavily embedded in the country’s culture and society. Young girls and women fear victim-blaming, their safety, and possibly tarnishing their family’s reputation as well as their own. Moreover, there is a lack of prosecutions for sexual harassers and abusers nationwide, which discourages survivors from coming forward.
Combatting the prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt has always been an intractable social issue. However, in the summer of 2020, there was a major turning point which was instigated on social media and empowered Egyptian girls and women to collectively call for justice:
July 1st 2020:
@assaultpolice posts their first Instagram picture exposing Ahmed Bassam Zaki (ABZ) as a sexual predator, thus marking the beginning of Egypt’s social media revolution against sexual harassment and violence.
The first post consisted of a picture of the perpetrator’s face with a brief description of his horrific crimes. Although the Instagram page was still new at the time, it gained thousands of followers almost instantaneously and its content circulated across media channels in Egypt at a considerable rate. In the days that followed, the page shared countless stories from survivors of ABZ’s incessant harassment and violence, while ensuring that the names of the survivors stayed anonymous for their own safety. ABZ had terrorised hundreds of underage girls and women over the span of 5 years by harassing them online -physically and verbally -and in some cases, blackmailing, raping and sending death threats to them.
As the stories gained momentum, they sparked extensive discussions about the state of sexual harassment and violence in Egyptian society and started a feminist revolution. Moreover, extreme societal anger towards the situation arose and @assaultpolice encouraged ABZ’s victims to come forward in order to raise more awareness and hold him accountable for his crimes.
July 2nd 2020:
Over 150 allegations were made against ABZ through @assaultpolice. Survivors and witnesses of his traumatising crimes were urged to come forward to testify in order to build a court case and assist in prosecuting him.
July 4th 2020:
ABZ was arrested.
July 6th 2020:
More than 10 girls contacted @assaultpolice’s lawyers in order to generate an official court case against ABZ. The girls were assured that their identities would remain anonymous and that their cases would be treated with confidentiality and care.
July 7th 2020:
ABZ confessed to blackmailing 6 girls with private photos.
July 8th 2020:
The Prime Minister amends the law to provide increased protection for the identities of sexual assault survivors. This would ensure that more survivors feel safe to share their stories and contact the lawyers, which would solidify the case against ABZ further. The police investigation continues for the other allegations.
The outcomes that @assaultpolice and its highly ambitious founder, Nadeen Ashraf, achieved through social media were transformative in Egypt’s battle against sexual harassment and violence. In a limited amount of time, the Instagram page amassed thousands of followers encouraged hundreds of survivors to share their stories, raised awareness of the issue, played a part in locking up a sexual predator, and amended Egyptian law.
The page continues to raise awareness on this major issue by posting stories daily about different survivors of sexual harassment or assault, as well as information on the different types of sexual harassment and violence, how to recognise them, and how to seek help if you are a victim. @assaultpolice, along with several other activist social media pages are still keeping the conversation alive and appealing to a massive audience.
This not only gives Egyptian girls and women a voice to demand justice but also teaches Egyptian boys and men to
be part of the change.
There is still much more progress to be made socially, culturally and politically regarding sexual harassment and assault in Egypt; however, due to the events that took place in the summer of 2020, more Egyptians can now be involved in the conversation.