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Sexual Harassment Video Sparks Controversy in Cairo

Viral video shows woman fleeing from baying mob at Cairo University, as law school dean implies victim partially to blame.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/19/2014, 5:06 PM

Screenshot shows victim being escorted away from baying mob
Screenshot shows victim being escorted away from baying mob
Screenshot/YoutTube

A viral video of a Cairo University student being aggressively sexually harassed has sparked controversy across Egypt on Wednesday over women's rights and roles. 

The video shows a blond-haired female student being subjected to a shocking level of verbal harassment simply for walking through the university campus. According to Al Arabiya, the student hid in the restrooms until Cairo University security staff safely escorted her off campus, after a group of male students physically attacked her and attempted to remove her clothes.

The fact that she was wearing what some deem as "provocative" clothing - a platinum blonde wig, leggings, and a bright pink shirt, sent social media in Egypt spiraling into controversy - with some claiming the incident was "her fault".

While students and spectators argued over the video among themselves, the controversy deepened when law school dean Gabriel Nassar allegedly implied that the victim was to blame over her choice of clothing. 

“This girl entered the university wearing an abaya (loose cloak) and then took it off in the faculty, and appeared with those clothes, that caused, in reality... but this doesn't justify at all [the incident],” Nassar said on Egyptian channel ONTV

Nassar's comments caused a backlash so intense that he took to Twitter to apologize, explaining that he was not blaming the victim.

"I apologize for the misunderstanding and I repeat that those who (harassed the girl) will be severely punished,” he wrote. 

Women’s rights activist Mariam Kirollos replied on her own Twitter account that the dean “should be interrogated and expelled” and that “investigations into the incident should start immediately.”

The issue of sexual harassment in Egypt has become front and center in the arena of women's rights over the past several years, after foreign journalists were assaulted in the 2011 Tahrir Square protests, causing local and worldwide outrage. 

Last year, Thomson-Reuters noted that Egypt has the worst track record in the Arab world for violence against women. 

An additional study by the United Nations, which interviewed hundreds of women across Egypt, revealed that more than 99% of women there had experienced some form of sexual harassment, ranging from minor incidents to rape. 

Ahram Online noted Wednesday in light of the viral video that the problem is exacerbated by the fact that, astonishingly, sexual assault is not a crime in Egypt; instead, police list such incidents as "honor crimes," attacking a woman or public obscenity.

At least two different draft bills have been submitted to the Egyptian parliament since 2012 to criminalize sexual assault, but both failed to garner enough support.