The Egyptian Women Standing Up for Human Rights

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Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront 'sexual terrorism' (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images).

Faced with a spike in sexual violence against female protesters, Egyptian women are overcoming stigma and recounting painful testimonies to force silent authorities and a reticent society to confront ‘sexual terrorism’ (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images).

The hopes and aspirations of Egypt’s 2011 uprising may rest in the ability of women to fight back against official discrimination and gender-based violence in the public arena.

Today, women play a leading role in the struggle for human rights in Egypt, but they’re paying a price for it through laws that marginalize them, increasing number of sexual assaults of women protesters and official pronouncements from authorities that women are to blame for the attacks on them.

A new Amnesty International campaign intends to reverse the loss of rights and to reclaim the promises of the Tahrir uprising by demanding that Egyptian authorities, both civilian and military, condemn sexual violence, fulfill their obligations to ensure women have the full spectrum of human rights and to press for accountability for past abuses.

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Sexual Attacks on Women in Egypt

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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.

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Five Reasons for Engagement Following the Egyptian Uprising

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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:

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Division, Distrust and Despair – Egypt Votes On a New Constitution

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Egyptian polling place

Egyptians line up outside a polling station in Mahalla on 15 December to vote in the referendum on a new Constitution. © Amnesty International

By Diana Eltahawy, Amnesty International’s North Africa Researcher

Arriving in Cairo a few days before the constitutional referendum held on Saturday, 15 December, I couldn’t remember a more bitterly divided and polarized Egypt.

During my last visit to the country as part of an Amnesty International delegation to document human rights violations committed during the 18 days of the “25 January Revolution”, there was a palpable sense of unity among protesters despite the suffering and violence.

Egyptians from all walks of life – women and men, Christians and Muslims, young and old, liberal and Islamist, affluent and poor – stood together against the government and its tactics to crush the uprising. They put aside their political, religious and ideological differences to fight for a common cause, and they were successful.

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Presidential Election Recaptures Hopes for New Egypt

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Ink-stained Fingers After Egyptian Elections

Egyptian women in Cairo show their ink-stained fingers after voting on May 24, 2012. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages

In the aftermath of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising, activists there have faced a long series of disappointments and broken promises. But for two days this week, the spirit of Tahrir Square was again in full evidence as a large turnout of Egyptians celebrated their first free presidential elections in our lifetime.

Nehal Amer, Amnesty International Middle East Country Specialist, was in Cairo for the elections and captured the celebratory atmosphere in Nazr City.  She noted “a bit of disorganization” but people remained upbeat. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Egypt Returns to Bad Old Days of Repression

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An Egyptian youth waves the national flag

An Egyptian youth waves the national flag with slogan in Arabic that reads. "25th of January, Day of the Freedom" © Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

It’s a return to the bad old days of repression for Egypt.

Last week, the military regime took a significant step back – severely threatening free speech, free association and assembly, and the right to strike – by expanding the government’s “emergency powers.”

These “State of Emergency” powers are the same ones the Mubarak regime used in its assault on human rights. The military authorities have essentially taken Egypt’s laws back to the bad old days of repression.

And with the coming parliamentary election, the timing couldn’t be worst.  The Egyptian people have waited so long for free elections, but even the most devoted of Egyptian democracy activists knew that a lot of difficult work had to be done in little time to build the foundations of free press, independent judiciary and other pillars needed for free elections.

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Egyptian Blogger Imprisoned for Facebook Comment on Hunger Strike

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Image via Facebook

An honest voice of the Egyptian uprising is in danger of being silenced unless the Egyptian government listens to domestic and international pressure to release  prisoner of conscience Maikel Nabil Sanad.

Sanad, whose Facebook postings criticized abuses by the Egyptian military, began a hunger strike on Aug. 23. This week, his family told Amnesty International that his health has greatly deteriorated.

The blogger started the hunger strike to protest his detention in an Egyptian prison north of Cairo. Sanad was arrested on March 28 at his home in Cairo, tried in a military court on April 10 and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for publicly insulting the army through comments he made on Facebook, and for allegedly spreading lies and rumors about the armed forces on his blog.

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