Egypt’s #MeToo Movement
Faye Lax, Extremism
Week of: October 12
Sexual harassment and violence against women is not a new phenomenon in Egypt. Previously, however, victims of such violence were faced with a government that was not only disregarding these crimes but actively covering them up. In June 2020, Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a former student at the American International School and the American University in Cairo, was the first upper-middle-class man in Cairo to be accused of sexual violence by over 100 women, sparking a #MeToo movement in Egypt.
According to a 2017 poll, Cairo is considered to be “the most dangerous megacity for women” and is not a place where women openly discuss sexual violence. The #MeToo movement found a platform where Egyptian victims of sexual violence could feel safe sharing their experiences. The forefront of the online campaign is largely taking place on the Instagram account “@assaultpolice”, which now has 200,000 followers and posts inspiring messages, such as the photo on the left which calls for women to make their voices heard. @assaultpolice is run by Nadeen Ashraf, a full-time philosophy student, who wanted to take a stand for Zaki’s victims. Since its inception, the account has brought awareness to his crimes and ultimately resulted in Zaki’s arrest by the Egyptian government.
It is very likely that this growing campaign will continue to give Egyptian women confidence and a platform through which to speak out and fight for the rights they deserve; additionally, it will shift the dynamic of women’s rights more broadly. They may feel more comfortable vocalizing women’s rights issues that have previously been taboo. However, the government and Egyptian critics may seek to counter this movement by limiting women’s rights in other ways. For instance, the Egyptian government arrested Zaki after he was outed on @assaultpolice, yet simultaneously, the government has also been hindering women’s rights. For instance, since April 2020, the Egyptian government has arrested at least nine women for their content on TikTok and charged them for “violating family values” with prison sentences of 2 years. Egypt’s parliament, courts, and lawyers are urging the government to ban TikTok as it has given women in Egypt a larger platform to share content as traditional media tends to be controlled and constrained in Egypt. Some of these women have been put in jail without bail.
Furthermore, there is concern that the response to Egypt’s #MeToo is only being acknowledged by the Egyptian government because Zaki is a member of the elite and has been exposed by women who belong to the upper-class communities. When Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former President was ruling, sexual assault victims were blamed for the way they dressed and behaved, and hence, crimes against women were left unpunished. Since Mubarak has left office, many men accused of sexual assault and violence have still been disregarded by the government. It’s important to note, however, that their victims tended to be lower or middle-class Egyptians.
Sexual harassment and violence against women is not a new phenomenon in Egypt. Previously, however, victims of such violence were faced with a government that was not only disregarding these crimes but actively covering them up. In June 2020, an issue of ‘framing’. As one activist, Ms. Hassan, explained it: “the authorities want to send a signal that there are good women and bad women. They support the good ones if they are victims. But these TikTok women — they are bad.” This may simply be a strategic tool for the Egyptian government to try and keep the movement in check. The actions on behalf of the government, while a step in the right direction, have dictated victims’ legitimacy based on their social status. Due to the high visibility of the accusations of Zaki, which have made numerous headlines, the government had to respond publicly and arrest Zaki. Hearings for Zaki’s trial started Saturday, October 10, in the Cairo Criminal Court. To counter this growing women’s rights movement, the Egyptian government may continue to crack down on women in other ways such as jailing TikTok influencers.
Nevertheless, the #MeToo movement is shifting the dynamic in Egypt. Accounts such as @assaultpolice are giving women a chance to speak up anonymously, without fear or shame. Hundreds of women are sending the account messages, such as the one to the right, recounting their experiences with Zaki. Having a safe space for victims and witnesses of sexual violence to step forward may be what Egyptian women need to bring about real societal change and garner recognition for the plight of historically silenced victims of sexual violence. The movement is also being acknowledged and legitimized by esteemed institutions such as Al-Azhar, the oldest religious institution in Egypt. It is very likely this movement will only continue to grow. With women speaking out and taking a stand, the government, as well as individuals, may attempt to counter this movement with other extremist or violent actions.
________________________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
 THE RESURGENCE OF THE #METOO MOVEMENT IN EGYPT, The Borgen Project, September 2020, https://borgenproject.org/metoo-movement-in-egypt/
 EXCLUSIVE -Cairo named riskiest megacity for women, worse since Arab spring, Thomson Reuters Foundation, October 2017, http://poll2017.trust.org/stories/item/?id=535e9698-7e22-4b5f-805e-9077c3d08e43
 Assault Police, Instagram, August 2013, https://www.instagram.com/p/CD1RddBlulM/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
 Egypt Sentences Women to 2 Years in Prison for TikTok Videos, The New York Times, July 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/world/middleeast/egypt-women-tiktok-prison.html
 Rise in Sexual Assaults in Egypt Sets Off Clash Over Blame, The New York Times, March 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/world/middleeast/egyptian-women-blamed-for-sexual-assaults.html
 Accusations of Serial Rape Push Egypt Toward a Reckoning, The New York Times, July 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/08/world/middleeast/egypt-metoo-rape-assault.html
 Egypt court starts hearings for trial of serial rapist Ahmed Bassam Zaki, Egypt Independent, October 2020, https://www.egyptindependent.com/egypt-court-starts-hearings-for-trial-of-serial-rapist-ahmed-bassam-zaki/
 @assaultpolice Anonymous Messages, Instagram, July 2, 2020, https://www.instagram.com/p/CCIw5yoF-Dc/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
 Meet Assault Police’s Nadeen Ashraf: The Student Behind Egypt’s Anti-Harassment Revolution, Egyptian Streets, September 2020, https://egyptianstreets.com/2020/09/20/meet-nadeen-ashraf-the-student-behind-egypts-anti-harrassment-social-media-revolution/