Egypt: Online ‘Assault Police’ account unleash new women’s movement

By Mourad R. Kamel

Posted on Thursday, 6 August 2020 17:55, updated on Saturday, 12 December 2020 14:22
Mideast Egypt
Egyptian women shout slogans and hold banners during a protest against sexual harassment in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, June 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

Egypt finds itself in the throes of a new online female movement, but will this be the one that finally sees a system of impunity dismantled for such aggressors?

This movement was prompted by an alleged gang rape committed by six men from prominent families against a young woman drugged in the luxury Fairmont Nile City hotel in 2014 during a party being held there.

The story began circulating on Instagram via an account called “Assault Police”. The details reveal how a group of six men drugged a girl and took her to their hotel rooms, where they allegedly raped her one by one before writing their names on her body.

Since that initial revelation, dozens of anonymous testimonies have followed in addition to people sharing how they had seen videos of this alleged rape, or even others committed by the same individuals.

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The defendants have been named, and are all from Egypt’s elite and prominent families.

But since the story was published by the ‘Assault Police’, the activists behind the operation of the page have received death threats.

“The people behind Assault Police have never revealed their identities. There are two things that can be taken away from these threats. The first is that the people suspected of this rape are very powerful, since they had to find these people. And secondly, the fact that the death threats also means that they want to silence them because this story has happened,” the director of Eed Wahda (One hand), an Egyptian NGO that fights sexual harassment tells The Africa Report.

The beginning of a new feminist movement

The group is known throughout the country for giving birth to the feminist movement after publishing hundreds of conversations and audiotapes about a 23-year-old man named Ahmed Bassam Zaki, also known as ABZ, suspected of rape, sexual harassment and violence.

Young Egyptian women who published testimonies of sexual misconduct in July sparked a national outcry that led to the arrest of Zaki, an alumnus of some of Egypt’s most prestigious schools and universities.

Testimonies included students from the EU Business School in Barcelona, Spain where he has been studying. In turn, the school issued a statement of measures taken against Zaki:

“This is an updated statement regarding the actions taken against Ahmed Zaki after collaboration with the collective ‘Assault Police’ leading to Ahmed Zaki’s expulsion […] and the filing of a criminal complaint at the Spanish police.”

By 4 July, Zaki had confessed to assaulting at least six girls, including one under 18, and blackmailing the victims, say prosecutors.

Fairmont Hotel gets involved

Instagram’s ‘Assault Police’ page was forced to close its page after death threats, but several other accounts on social media have since emerged to continue publishing testimonials from people who were at the party, saw the videos, or know the suspects.

The Fairmont Hotel says it has investigated the allegations: “An internal investigation was undertaken by the hotel as soon as it became aware of the disturbing allegations,” said Yara El Douky, Fairmont Hotel communications director.

“We can confirm that at no time were reports of the incident filed with the hotel or the hotel’s tourism police,” she added. “All hotel staff are committed to assisting the relevant authorities and we will continue to offer our support without hindrance,” she said.

But the Fairmont Hotel rapes highlight a system of impunity for those who live in the higher echelons of Egyptian society.

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“The culture of rape in Egypt is prevalent,” says the lawyer and director of Eed Wahda, who asked to remain unnamed for security reasons.

“Defining rape is not within everyone’s reach. The biggest victory for victims of sexual violence is that lawyers and civil society have mobilised a legal process where women who have been victims of violence can file a complaint while remaining anonymous. This prevents them from facing all the social judgements, including those of their own families, in a patriarchal society,” says Reda el-Danbouki, an Egyptian lawyer and executive director of the Women’s Centre for Legal Guidance and Awareness.

And in the case of the Fairmont Hotel, “we are talking about very well-connected rapists,” says the lawyer of Eed Wahda. “The father of one of the men is an arms dealer, the father of another is a parliamentarian who also heads a university and a school, another is in the steel industry, and another is in the football industry. These are people we know, and that makes things even more bizarre. These are people who were friends of friends. I do not mention their names because they are threatening people’s lives. They are guilty and the proof we have is that they are threatening,” adds the lawyer of Eed Wahda.

To date, one victim from the alleged gang rape in 2014 at the hotel filed a complaint with the National Council of Women on 3 August. She will also file a complaint with the state prosecutor according to a legal source speaking to the Egyptian publication Mada Masr.

Small victory

The publications of the ‘Assault Police’ did ignited a catalyst to spur more women to take to social media and share their stories.

One account in particular, TheBurningBush20, began publishing testimonies of harassment of Coptic Egyptians living in the United States.

For the movement’s first victory, Egyptian Pope Tawadros II issued a decree on 18 July to strip priest Reweiss Aziz Khalil of his priestly rank, following accusations by Sally Zekheiry that she was molested by the priest at the age of 11 and 12.  Some 500,000 Copts live in the US.

But the Coptic community in Egypt itself, which makes up about 10% of the population, has remained silent on the matter.

Rapists at large, tik-tok dancers in prison…

The timing of these allegations and de facto movement come at a time when Egypt’s highly patriarchal society is further brought to light by the sentencing of several young social media influencers, who were accused of “violating public morality”

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On Monday 27 July, a court sentenced five influential social media women, Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others, to two years in prison each on charges of violating public morals on content posted on the video-sharing application Tik Tok.

“I am very angry at the sentencing of the Tik Tok girls, they did not harm anyone. There is so much emphasis on these cases when rape cases take too long. A friendly reminder that Ahmed Bassam Zaki, the man accused of raping or harassing at least 80 girls, is out on bail. A girl who dances is arrested but poses no threat to society, meanwhile the rapists are released,” says Mona Eltahawy, an internationally renowned journalist and speaker on Arab and Muslim issues and global feminism.

She adds: “The women who exposed their rapes are very courageous, they remind us that the feminist movement in Egypt reminds us that something profound has changed. It is the quest for a feminist revolution, fighting taboos and refusing to be ashamed of sex and sexuality. We say ‘Farewell’ to the system that has protected the powerful and the rich, and at the expense of women and the poor.” 

The Egyptian Minister of International Cooperation, Rania al-Mashat, for her part, posted a message of support on Instagram: “To all the girls who are there, we are listening to you”.

To date, that is the only reaction from the government. For Eltahawy, the state remains complicit in this system of impunity:

“When the state does virginity tests on Tik-Tok girls, as it did during the 2011 revolution, we know that families do it for their daughters too, and now we also see sons of rich people assaulting and raping girls without any accountability. This demonstrates the third tier of misogyny that we know in Egypt. Moreover, the Tik-Tok girls consented to make these videos, while the raped women never consented to the acts they were subjected to. Consent is the rule that you can’t touch.”

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