Sexual Attacks on Women in Egypt

A woman protester waves the victory sign during clashes with military police near Tahrir Square.

A woman protester waves the victory sign during clashes with military police near Tahrir Square.

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s Egypt researcher

Almost every girl and woman – regardless of age, social status or choice of attire – who has walked the streets or taken public transport in Cairo, has experienced some form of verbal or physical sexual harassment.

This isn’t new. For years, Egyptian women’s rights activists and others have called on the authorities to recognize the seriousness of the problem.

There needs to be a fundamental shift in institutionalized attitudes that discriminate against women.

The Egyptian authorities must introduce legal reforms, prosecute perpetrators and address root causes, because the plight of women who have experienced sexual violence has been ignored.


Five Reasons for Engagement Following the Egyptian Uprising

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012.  Copyright Amnesty International.

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012. Copyright Amnesty International.

On the second anniversary of the Egyptian Jan. 25 uprising, there’s a strong sense that the hopes of Tahrir Square have been tarnished.

There’s some reason for this: There have been too many broken promises.  Women, who were so essential to the uprising, were quickly marginalized in the months after it. Copts and other minority groups fear for their future. A new civilian government pushed through a constitution that may further minimize the role of women and lead to past human rights abuses being repeated. And perhaps most important, no institution seems capable of holding former Mubarak officials, security forces and the military accountable for decades of human rights abuses. The spirit of impunity lives on.

Yet, that’s only one side of the situation. There is in fact reason not to lose faith in Egypt’s future. This is not a promise that the path toward justice in Egypt is smooth, nor is it a prediction. But here are five reasons why we must remain engaged:


10 Absurd and Unjust Arrests of 2012

Check out our list of 10 absurd arrests and sentences of the year. You might be surprised to learn what can get you thrown in jail in a few places around the world, and how harsh the sentences are once you’re there.

belarus teddy bears fly over minsk

Bears being dropped. Photo via Studio Total

1. Posting photos of teddy bears.

Anton Suryapin of Belarus spent more than a month in detention after posting photos of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane. The bears were part of a stunt by a Swedish advertising company calling for freedom of expression in Belarus. Anton is charged of “organizing illegal migration” simply because he was the first upload photos of the teddy bears, and still faces a prison sentence of up to seven years.

2. Tweeting.

After allegedly “publicly insulting the King” on Twitter, a Bahraini man had his six-month prison sentence upheld on appeal, while three others are serving four-month prison sentences. Article 214 of Bahrain’s penal code makes it a crime to offend the King.

3. Opposing the death penalty.


Egypt: Street Fights at the Steps of the Presidential Palace

The following post is from Amnesty International’s Egypt team. 

Demonstrators and security forces outside the presidential palace ©Amnesty International

Demonstrators and security forces outside the presidential palace. ©Amnesty International

When he took office just a few months ago Mohamed Morsi promised to be the president of all Egyptians.

But hopes that he would take steps to resolve the current situation and give up the wide-ranging powers that triggered this latest crisis have been dashed after a bitter and bloody night of clashes between the president’s opponents and supporters.

The clashes followed an attack by the president’s supporters – believed to be largely made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood – on a sit-in staged by his opponents outside the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis.


My husband's place is not in prison

egypt-blog-300This post was written by Shaimaa, the wife of Write-a-thon case, Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein (known by his pen name Musaad Abu Fagr), who has been in administrative detention in Egypt since February 2008.

Two years have passed since my husband Musaad Abu Fagr was arrested. For my daughter Ranad and I, every day that passes feels like 10 years.

Ranad was three years old when my husband was arrested. She used to sleep after he kissed her goodnight and wake up after a kiss from him. He used to drive her to school every day.

Ranad is now five years old. Even though I try to play this role as her mother, Ranad misses her father’s presence in her life. What hurts me is that her father used to do a lot of things for her; he used to play with her and take her to the playground or the sports club.

She always repeats his words, and when she goes to bed, Ranad sends kisses to her father and when she wakes up she asks: “Did Musaad get my kisses?”

Everything she does proves how much she misses her father. When we go to visit Musaad in prison, she does not leave his lap. She touches his face with her little hands, looks at him and asks: “When will you come back with us?”

This question hurts me and her father a lot because she is a child entitled to enjoy having both her parents with her. She wishes that her father is always with her, just like her friends. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Write-a-Thon Series: Musaad Abu Fagr

This posting is part of our Write-a-Thon Cases Series. For more information visit

© AI         Musaad Abu Fagr

© AI Musaad Abu Fagr

A State of Emergency has existed in Egypt since 1981 following the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, but these days the greatest emergency in Egypt is the state of civil society.  Writers, scholars, intellectuals, political opponents and a range of non-governmental organizations are all under attack by the government.

But novelist Musaad Suliman Hassan Hussein, known by his pen name Musaad Abu Fagr, refuses to be muzzled. His courage in face of government oppression offers American activists an answer as to how to promote human rights in the Middle East at a time of declining American influence.

Musaad Abu Fagr was arrested in December 2007 following demonstrations in Sinai against government plans to demolish thousands of homes near the border with the Gaza Strip. A movement founded by Musaad Abu Fagr and other political activists in Sinai, Wedna Na’ish (We Want to Live), led the demonstrations. He was accused of “inciting others to protest,” “resisting the authorities,” and “assaulting public officers during the exercise of their duties.” During the July and December 2007 demonstrations, several thousand protesters clashed with the security forces.


Obama's Speech and the Arab Reaction

In the immediate aftermath of President Obama’s speech today in Cairo, the heavy web traffic of discussion among Arab activists was divided essentially into two camps.  One person claimed that the speech could have been given by George W. Bush.  Another compared it to Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem.

It’s not that either opinion is wrong – either may be proved right – but it was the nature of this talk from the very beginning that its meaning won’t be known for years down the road.  For what will make it historic (or not) is not the rhetoric of the speech but the policies that follow it (or don’t).

For one, I don’t believe this was a talk that George W. could have given, although it did share much of the same language on democracy that Bush stubbornly adhered to long after his own policies made shreds of any hope for it.

Midway through Obama’s speech, he digressed to condemn the belief in “a world order that elevates one nation or group of people.”  That is something that the worldview of American exceptionalism held by Bush and many of his presidential predecessors would never agree to.  I hope that this radically different worldview may result in a new path of policies.

And it was promising that Obama addressed a broad range of issues – democracy, women’s rights, Israel and Palestine and economic development – with an understanding that they all affect the human rights situation and all have to be addressed.

One thing that stood out was when it came to economic development, Obama announced a long line of initiatives that hold promise.  But in each of the other areas, particularly on Israel and on democracy, the rhetoric wasn’t matched by specifics.  I hope that doesn’t imply that he thinks that action on economic development is more important than in the other areas.

Amnesty International welcomes Obama’s comments, but we now expect him to follow up with policies to match the rhetoric.  He should begin with ending all practices that make the U.S. complicit in the various abuses that he denounced, such as extraordinary renditions and secret detention.  He should insist that Israel and the PNA to cooperate with the UN’s fact-finding mission looking into violations of international law during the recent Gaza war.  And he provide a public and independent report of America’s war on terror practices, a step he has opposed to date.

These would be just a first step, but an important step.  It would start us on a path that could turn his speech today from a remarkable moment into an historic event.

Obama’s Hotly Anticipated Speech to the Muslim World

Obama's BBC Interview

Obama's BBC Interview

President Obama is due to arrive in Cairo on Thursday to give a hotly anticipated speech to the Muslim world during a five day trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany and France.

His speech is said to be similar to his previous one in Turkey, in which he will reiterate that the US wishes to foster warm relations with Muslim nations and will not, in his words, “simply impose… values on another country with a different history and a different culture.” He also told the BBC he plans to engage in “tough, direct diplomacy”.

This tough and direct diplomacy, though, should entail recognizing and tackling human rights violations in the region, such as those in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. President Obama has said that while his administration will not impose our American values on other nations, they will encourage universal principles like freedom of speech and religion. He has also said that “part of being a good friend is being honest”.

Now is the perfect time to be honest. This is an important moment for the universal value of human rights in the Middle East, and excuses are not acceptable.

Be sure to take a look at Obama’s full BBC interview regarding the trip here.

Samah Choudhury contributed to this post

What detention looks like on Twitter

One of the side effects of our new social networking technology is we are getting to see human rights violations and the workings of security agencies occur in real time through tools such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.  I’ve known that for some time, but the knowledge feels different when it’s someone you have met who is affected.

Laila el-Haddad is a Duke graduate and Gaza activist.  She lives most of the time in Gaza but has returned to Duke on several occasions to talk about the Middle East.  She was passing through Cairo’s airport today on way to another venue when suddenly she and her family members were detained.

el-Haddad immediately started Twittering her detention.  If you have a Twitter account, you can follow her postings at @gazamom.  For more than 12 hours she described the unreal procession of questionings, of waiting, of discussions with the other detainees.  The most recent word she gives is authorities are denying her return to Gaza but will deport her to the U.S.

But not just a window into the detention, Twitter was also a means by which other activists could come to her assistance.  Friends at Duke immediately got in touch; American and Egyptian authorities were pressed for more information.  It seems unlikely that in this case she was saved from actual arrest, but Twitter has been credited in gaining releases in other cases.

Beyond the Twitter aspect, the detention also casts light on the hypocracy of many Arab governments’ support for Palestinian activists. The government’s support for Palestine often goes only as far as it serves their own purposes; when activists make the cause their own independently, it often — as it did in Laila’s case — brings the weight of the security forces on them.

More on Twitter: Activists in Moldova are attempting to see what a revolution would look like on Twitter.  Click here for the story.

(Thursday update and More on Twitter: Today, Egyptian police broke into the house of blogger Wael Abbas.  His reports are available on Twitter at @waelabbas.)